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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks near an intercontinental ballistic missile in this undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, March 24, 2022.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks near an intercontinental ballistic missile in this undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, March 24, 2022. (KCNA)

North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile near its northwestern border Sunday morning, its 18th round of missile tests so far this year, according to South Korea’s military.

The missile was launched around 6:53 a.m. from North Pyongan Province, north of the capital city of Pyongyang, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters.

It flew roughly 372 miles at a peak altitude of 37 miles toward the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, according to Seoul. The missile is believed to have flown at Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.

The Joint Chiefs said U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials were analyzing the launch and Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, the U.S. Forces Korea commander, reaffirmed their defenses would be strengthened.

The launch is a “grave provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community,” the Joint Chiefs said.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement it was aware of the launch and was “consulting closely with our allies and partners.”

“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of [North Korea’s] … ballistic missile programs,” the statement said. "The U.S. commitments to the defense of [South Korea] and Japan remain ironclad.”

The Japanese Prime Minister’s Office in a statement on its website called for the government to “take all possible measures for precaution, including readiness for contingencies.”

The launch comes two days after a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, steamed into South Korea’s largest port for the first time in five years ahead of joint maritime drills.

The Ronald Reagan was joined in Busan by the USS Barry, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and the USS Chancellorsville, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser. The USS Benfold, another destroyer, ported roughly 25 miles west of Busan.

U.S. and South Korean forces wrapped up a large-scale, 11-day military exercise on Sept. 1 after a five-year suspension. The exercise was lambasted by North Korean officials through its state-run media outlets and described as a rehearsal of an invasion.

In August, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol offered North Korea substantial financial assistance if it chose to denuclearize. Yoon unveiled a self-described “audacious initiative” that would boost the North’s “agricultural productivity” and “modernize hospitals and medical infrastructure” in exchange for concrete evidence towards denuclearization.

North Korea has so far rejected Yoon’s overtures and continues to issue fierce statements against the South.

So far this year, Pyongyang has carried out more than 30 launches, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017. The latest launch is North Korea’s first since Aug. 17, when the communist regime fired two cruise missiles toward the Yellow Sea.

North Korea is also suspected by U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials to have fully prepared to conduct its seventh nuclear test, its first in five years. Pyongyang on Sept. 8 reaffirmed its development of nuclear weapons and said it would “automatically” attack hostile forces if its leadership was in danger, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

That threat is expected to be on the docket when Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea after attending the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday in Tokyo.

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