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In a rare move on Sunday, North Korea launched at least one missile in the Sea of Japan from a submarine in response to large-scale joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. While Pyongyang has conducted a smattering of land-based launches over the past year, it is rare for North Korea to launch missiles at sea.
Although North Korea claims to have launched two cruise missiles from a submarine, the South Korean military only tracked one missile fired from the sub, which was located near the North Korean port city of Sinpo.
The missile launches come as a warning to the U.S. and South Korea as the two countries begin 11 days of joint military drills, which are the largest in 5 years. The North Korean launches came within the first 24 hours of the U.S. drills.
According to North Korean state media, Pyongyang vowed to take "the toughest counteraction" against the joint military exercises and said that the "strategic cruise missiles" were launched Sunday morning from an "8.24 Yongung" submarine in the Sea of Japan. It is the same submarine that was used to test North Korea's first submarine-launched ballistic missile in 2016.
While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recently warned of "unprecedented strong responses" to the joint exercises if they took place, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, has warned that "the frequency of using the Pacific Ocean as our shooting range depends on the nature of the U.S. military's actions," according to a statement published on the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
With the U.S. government stretched thin between assisting Ukraine in its defense against Russia and Beijing ramping up its threats of reunification with Taiwan while strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally in the Middle East, the last thing the U.S. or its military needs right now is a conflict with North Korea.