In what could be a show of force, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles early on Tuesday which flew between 500 and 600 kms (300 and 360 miles) into the sea off its east coast, demonstrating a range capable of striking anywhere in South Korea. It may also be intended to express displeasure with plans to deploy a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.
The US military said it detected launches of what it believed were two Scud missiles and one Rodong, a home-grown missile based on Soviet-era Scud technology. Speculations suggest that this was to register disapproval against the decision of South Korea and the U.S. to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in Seoul.
THAAD is an advanced US missile defence system designed to shoot down missiles at a relatively high altitude of 40-150 km using a hit-to-kill technology. North Korea's short-range missiles are known to fly at a lower altitude of about 20 km incapable of being intercepted by THAAD missiles.
Earlier this month, the day after the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile system was announced, North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine. The launch failed, the South Korean military said.
"Our assessment is that it was done as a show of force," a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff official was quoted as saying in media reports.
The missiles were launched from an area in the North's western region called Hwangju between 5:45 a.m. South Korea time and 6:40 a.m., the South's military said, an indication that the North was confident they would not crash on its own territory.
The missiles were directed towards its east sea covering enough distance which could be entire South Korea’s territory. "The ballistic missiles flight went from 500 km to 600 km, which is a distance far enough to strike all of South Korea, including Busan," the South's military said in a statement. Busan is a South Korean port city in the south.
Experts are now analyzing whether North Korea may be conducting another nuclear test, which would be the fifth in its history. Satellite imagery released last week by the North Korean affairs website 38 North indicated a high level of activity around the site where North Korea conducted nuclear tests early this year and in 2013.