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While North Korea has been conducting smaller missile tests for days in response to the U.S. and South Korea holding their largest joint military exercises in several years, Pyongyang announced Monday that it launched a ballistic missile over the weekend as part of a simulated nuclear attack on South Korea.

According to state media, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the drill, which was held to push back "aggression" from the country's enemies. The ballistic missile launch was symbolically held on the same day that U.S. B-1B strategic bombers joined the aerial military drills with Seoul.

North Korea said that the ballistic missile launch was "carried out under the tense situation in which a large-scale war drill is being frantically scaled up by the U.S.-South Korean allied forces to invade the DPRK and U.S. nuclear strategic assets are massively brought to South Korea."

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Many in the U.S. see the missile launch as being in response to the U.S. bombers joining the joint military exercises. While some reports indicate that the ballistic missile included a mock nuclear warhead, North Korea has claimed that it had "no adverse effect on the security of the neighboring countries."

The missile reached an altitude of 50km (31 miles) and flew approximately 800km (497 miles), according to Japan's Defense Ministry. The mock warhead was launched from the North Pyongan province in North Korea and landed in the ocean between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, where it exploded roughly 800 meters above the water.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) have noted that it is remaining alert and is prepared for additional missile launches from Pyongyang, "while maintaining a full readiness posture through close cooperation with the U.S."

South Korea is not the only concerned country in the region, with Japan's Defense Ministry saying in a statement that North Korea's continued missile launches "threaten the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community."

Pyongyang previously warned that it was ready to initiate the "toughest counteraction against the most vicious plots of the U.S. and its followers," in response to the 11-day Freedom Shield joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul. The exercises have been called the largest joint drills between the two countries in 5 years.

ICBM Launch from Submarine

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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.

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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.

Anti-Submarine Drill

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As North Korea announces plans to increase its nuclear weapons cache and tensions rise in the area, the U.S. and South Korea are reportedly planning to increase anti-submarine exercises in 2023. According to the Korea Times last week, the biannual “silent shark” drills will be “bigger than those of the past, given the North heightening tensions with its dozens of missile tests in recent months.”

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Seol has stated that the increased exercises are needed due to the rising threat from North Korea, saying that the exercises with the U.S. are “designed to improve their capability to respond to increasing North Korean submarine threats, including its submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

In October, concerns grew when North Korea responded to U.S.–South Korean military exercises by launching a KN-23 SLBM from an underwater reservoir which prompted concerns that the North had created a new launch platform for the missile.

Military exercises in the region have hit a recent high in 2022 as North Korea has conducted numerous nuclear tests and launched 2 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) just this month. With South Korea increasing its military exercises and the U.S. sending strategic assets to the area, tensions are mounting.

Pyongyang has denounced the U.S. military’s flyover earlier this month with nuclear-capable B-1B stealth bombers as a provocative act rather than as a maneuver that was part of a larger military exercise.

While Washington and Seoul plan next year’s anti-submarine exercises, North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un has boasted that North Korea will create “the world’s most powerful strategic force, the absolute force unprecedented in the century,” in reference to Pyongyang’s reported development of technology that can mount nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.

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