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A North Korean missile is launched in this image released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.

A North Korean missile is launched in this image released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (KCNA)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles off its eastern coast on Thursday, according to South Korean military officials.

The weapons were fired around 6:29 p.m., the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a message to reporters. It said it was coordinating with the United States on the matter.

The missiles were estimated by the Joint Chiefs to have flown about 224 miles at a peak altitude of 56 miles.

The Japanese prime minister’s office in a tweet said it also detected a suspected missile being fired from North Korea.

The missiles mark North Korea’s 15th round of weapons testing so far this year. The regime’s latest launch was conducted on May 7, when it fired a short-range submarine-launched ballistic missile.

The launches come two days after South Korea inaugurated its newest president, Yoon Suk Yeol. A conservative member of the People Power Party, Yoon has vowed to reinforce the country’s alliance with the United States and respond firmly against North Korean provocations.

In his inauguration speech on Tuesday, Yoon said “the door to dialogue will remain open” for North Korea to “resolve” its nuclear weapon program.

“If North Korea stops developing its nuclear program and turns to substantive denuclearization, I will prepare for an audacious plan to achieve epoch-making improvement in North Korea’s economy and North Koreans’ lives in cooperation with the international community,” Yoon said in his speech.

The president also floated the idea of a vast economic package for the North, should it take steps toward denuclearization.

North Korea has a history of conducting weapons tests shortly before and after significant events in South Korea. The regime test-fired around five missiles one month after former South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price in a press briefing on Wednesday said “there is no more pressing challenge than that posed by” North Korea’s weapons program.

“We have made very clear that we are willing to engage in good-faith diplomacy with [North Korea],” he said. “We do so, of course, with no hostile intent.”

Multiple U.S. officials in recent weeks have speculated that North Korea has no plans to discontinue missile or nuclear tests. 

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday briefed lawmakers that the regime will likely continue its testing and “justify its actions by using U.S. policy, South Korea’s military modernization, and combined U.S.–South Korean military exercises as pretext to normalize North Korea’s military advancements.”

In a press briefing on May 6, State Department principal deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said the North may conduct its seventh nuclear test as early as this month.

North Korea last conducted a nuclear test on Sept. 3, 2017. The test, carried out in an underground facility in the northeastern mountains at Punggye-ri, was measured as a 6.3-magnitude earthquake by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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