SEOUL, March 13 (UPI) — North Korea launched a pair of “strategic cruise missiles” from a submarine in the waters off its east coast, state media reported Monday, in an apparent warning as the United States and South Korea kicked off their largest joint military drills in five years.
The missiles were fired from the “8.24 Yongung” submarine Sunday morning, state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. They flew in figure-eight patterns for over two hours and covered a distance of roughly 930 miles before hitting a target in the sea.
“The drill confirmed the reliability of the weapon system and examined the underwater-to-surface offensive operation posture of the submarine units that constitute one of the major components of the DPRK nuclear deterrent,” the report said.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
South Korea’s military said early Monday that it had detected an “unknown missile” fired from a North Korean submarine off the coast of Sinpo the previous day. The coastal city is home to a major shipyard where missile-launching submarines have been spotted in recent years.
“The detailed specifications are being closely analyzed by South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities,” the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message sent to reporters.
The cruise missile test came on the eve of a massive joint military drill by South Korea and the United States.
The 11-day Freedom Shield exercise began Monday and consists of live field drills and computer-simulation command post exercises at a scale not seen in five years.
North Korea has frequently condemned the allies’ joint drills as preparation for an invasion and warned last month of “unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions” to the upcoming exercise.
The KCNA report Monday said the submarine launch demonstrated North Korea’s ability to “control with its overwhelming powerful force … the present situation in which the U.S. imperialists and the [S]outh Korean puppet traitors are getting evermore undisguised in their anti-DPRK military maneuvers.”
The test followed Pyongyang’s launch of at least six short-range missiles into the sea on Thursday, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called preparation for an “actual war response.”
Earlier in the week, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, said that any attempts by the allies to shoot down the North’s missiles would be “regarded as a clear declaration of war.”