North Korea fires ballistic missiles as tensions mount with USA and South Korea

© Senior Airman Jacob Skovo, US Air Force via AP

North Korea fired four short-range ballistic missiles into the western sea on Saturday, South Korea's military said, as Seoul and Washington ended a high-profile six-day military exercise.

This is the latest in a barrage of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with one landing near South Korea's territorial waters for the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The United States, South Korea and Japan condemned the action, with some saying it raised speculation it could be preparing to resume nuclear weapons testing for the first time since 2017.

“Vigilant Storm” against aging fleet

North Korea’s launches came as the United States and South Korea completed "Vigilant Storm", their largest-ever joint air exercises which began on Monday, which North Korea who described it as "aggressive and provocative".

Experts say Pyongyang is particularly sensitive about these drills because its air force is one of the weakest links in its military, lacking high-tech jets and properly trained pilots. Compared with North Korea's ageing fleet, Vigilant Storm has seen some of the most advanced US and South Korean warplanes in action, including F-35 stealth fighters.

Saturday's launches came between 11:31 and 11:59 a.m. (02:31-02:59 GMT) and flew about 130 km (80 miles), reaching an altitude of about 20 km (10 miles), Seoul said.

The allied exercise involved some 240 military aircraft and two US B-1B strategic bombers, as well as four F-16 and four F-35A fighters, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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