North Korea launched two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine as a show of force mere hours before the United States and South Korea commenced their largest joint military drills in five years.
The tests, reported by state media on Monday, occurred days after leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a series of missile launches and ordered his troops to increase their efforts to oppose "frantic war preparation actions" by its adversaries.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) stated that the missile launches demonstrated Pyongyang's willingness to respond to alleged military manoeuvres by "the US imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces" with "overwhelmingly powerful forces."
KCNA claimed North Korea intends to equip the tested cruise missiles with nuclear bombs.
Pyongyang regards the military exercises between the United States and South Korea as invasion preparations and claims that its nuclear weapons and missile programs are essential for self-defence.
The US and South Korean militaries launched "Freedom Shield" exercises early Monday morning, the first time such large-scale drills have been conducted since 2018 when they were stopped in favour of new diplomatic efforts to guarantee North Korea's denuclearization.
The most recent exercises include Freedom Shield 23, a computer simulation, and Warrior Shield FTX, a collection of integrated field training exercises.
According to the South Korean and US armed services, the drills are slated to last at least ten days and focus on the "changing security environment" in light of North Korea's rising nuclear threats.
In 2022, North Korea performed unprecedented missile launches and embraced a more aggressive nuclear posture.
But, some analysts cautioned caution among the bluster.
North Korean cruise missiles launched from a submarine pose a threat that the United States and its allies must take seriously, according to Professor Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha University in Seoul.
"But, Pyongyang is likely exaggerating when it asserts that it has already equipped these missiles with nuclear warheads. The Kim dictatorship wishes to demonstrate that its military capabilities can match or exceed those displayed during U.S.-South Korean defence exercises. Yet in actuality, North Korean soldiers are badly nourished and are ordered to assist farmers in alleviating the nation's food shortfall."
In the most recent testing, according to the state news agency, the missiles flew for more than two hours, tracing figure-eight-shaped patterns over the oceans of the country's eastern coast and striking targets 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) distant.
According to KCNA, the missiles were launched from the 8.24 Yongung, a submarine North Korea has utilized for all its known submarine-launched ballistic missile tests since 2016.
Sunday, the military of South Korea reported detecting a submarine launch in waters near the eastern coast of North Korea at Sinpo. The port city of North Korea has a significant shipyard for producing submarines.
According to experts, Kim is attempting to coerce the United States into recognizing North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power and easing international sanctions harming the country's economy.
Chun In-bum, a retired South Korean army general, told the AFP news agency, "North Korea would exploit the Freedom Shield 2023 Drill to unify its people and as an excuse to further invest in weapons of mass destruction."
Even a nuclear test should be expected to result in more missile launches of varying styles and scopes. North Korea's continued tactics of intimidation should not come as a surprise.
Washington has frequently reaffirmed its "ironclad" commitment to South Korea's defence, using "the whole spectrum of its military weapons, including nuclear."