South Korea conducts live-bombing drill, releases footage of new missiles in show of force against North

A handout photo made available by South Korean Air Force shows MK84 bombs, dropped by South Korean F-15K fighters, hitting a simulated target at the Pilseung Range in the eastern province of Gangwon, South Korea, on Aug 29, 2017, hours after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan into the sea. EPA
A handout photo made available by South Korean Air Force shows South Korean F-15K fighters drop MK84 bombs, each weighing about a ton, at a simulated target at the Pilseung Range in the eastern province of Gangwon, South Korea, on Aug 29, 2017, hours after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan into the sea. EPA
A US Air Force B-1B Lancer (left) flying with a South Korean F-15K fighter jet over South Korea. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - Hours after North Korea fired a missile that flew over Japan and landed in waters off Hokkaido on Tuesday (Aug 29), South Korea released rare footage of its testing of new ballistic missiles in a show of force against Pyongyang.

Its fighter jets also conducted a live-bombing drill at 9.30 am local time, three and a half hours after Pyongyang fired what is believed to be a newly developed Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM)

The displays of force came as South Korean President Moon Jae In ordered an "overwhelming" show of force in retaliation to North Korea's latest missile firing, which sent tension soaring in the region. South Korean stocks led regional losses, with the Kospi index sliding as much as 1.6 per cent in morning trade.

Mr Moon's order came as South Korean officials held talks over the phone with their United States counterparts to discuss joint measures against the provocation, according to the presidential Blue House.

Mr Moon's top security advisor Chung Eui Yong spoke with White House national security advisor HR McMaster, who assured him of "unwavering" US-Korea defence cooperation and that US President Donald Trump "fully supports" Mr Moon's North Korea policy and the South Korean government's response to North Korean provocations.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha, meanwhile, discussed further sanctions against North Korea with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who expressed disappointment that Pyongyang launched another missile despite offers of dialogue from Seoul and some US officials.

South Korea's National Security Council convened an emergency meeting Tuesday morning and condemned North Korea for violating United Nations Security Council resolutions despite stern warnings, said the Blue House in a statement.

South Korea Air Force on Tuesday morning conducted a live-bombing drill in the eastern city of Taebaek, with four F-15K fighter jets dropping eight MK-84 bombs, each weighing about a tonne.

The state-run Agency for Defence Development, which released footage of its testing of ballistic missiles - a 500km-range missile with improved warhead power, and one with a range of 800km, said the missiles are core elements of South Korea's Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system, and that they are capable of striking "any place in North Korea if necessary", according to Yonhap news agency.

There is also talk of the US deploying strategic defence capabilities like long-range bombers to the Korean peninsula.

Analysts told The Straits Times North Korea seems determined to keep tensions high in the region, even though the latest missile launch falls short of its previous threat to strike waters around the US territory of Guam.

The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile was fired around 5.58am local time (4.58am Singapore time) from Pyongyang's Sunan district. It reached an altitude of 550km and flew more than 2,700km over Japan's Hokkaido, before landing in the Pacific Ocean at 6.12am. This marks the first time since 2009 that a North Korean rocket flew over Japan.

Dr Go Myong Hyun of The Asan Institute for Policy Studies said North Korea is trying to maintain a high level of tension without crossing the red line - referring to Pyongyang's threat of striking waters around Guam in response to US President Donald Trump's "fire and fury" warning earlier this month.

"It is an important provocation but falls short of the red line," said Dr Go.

He added that President Moon has been under pressure to give a stronger response to North Korea, after being accused of downplaying its previous provocations.

The liberal president has long pushed for improving ties with the North, even as he sought to exert pressure on the regime to end its nuclear programme and return to the negotiating table.

"With (today's) strong response, the South Korean government sends a message that South Korea is going to match North Korea's escalations with escalation... it shows to the United States and South Korean public that this government is not a friendly government to North Korea."

Tens of thousands of South Korean and United States troops are taking part in the "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" (UFG) joint military drills, a largely computer-simulated exercise that started last Monday. It is scheduled to end this Thursday.

Other South Korean allies are also joining this year, with troops from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand taking part.

North Korea has repeatedly blasted the joint South Korea- US drills, calling the exercise a rehearsal for an invasion of the North. It has slammed the exercise as adding "fuel to fire" amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

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