(Update 2: Adds latest North Korean missile tests)
Seoul, Nov 3 (EFE).- The armies of South Korea and the United States announced Thursday they would extend the duration of their major Vigilant storm air maneuvers in response to the string of more than 20 missiles launched by North Korea in the last two days.
“The Air Forces of (South Korea) and the US have decided to extend the training period of the large-scale joint air exercise ‘Vigilant storm,’ which began on Oct. 31, in relation to the recent and continuous provocations by North Korea,” read a statement from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, without specifying dates.
A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a message to the media that both sides are “discussing the details regarding the period” of extension of the exercises.
Vigilant storm is the largest combined South Korean-US air exercise since 2017 and includes the mobilization of F-15, F-16, EA-18G fighters (the version of the F-18 fighter-bomber adapted for electronic warfare scenarios ), F-35A and F-35B, which unlike the F-35A can perform short takeoffs and vertical takeoffs and landings.
It is the first time the Pentagon has flown F-35B units into South Korean territory, a factor that may have especially angered Pyongyang, which threatened Tuesday to respond forcefully to the war games.
North Korea launched one intercontinental and two short-range ballistic missiles Wednesday morning, prompting Japan to issue an alert urging residents to seek shelter.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they had detected the launch of what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Sunan area of Pyongyang towards the Sea of Japan around 7.40 am (22:40 GMT Wednesday).
It also reported the detection of two short-range ballistic missiles launched from Kaechon in South Pyongan province from around 8.39 am.
The ICBM activated Japan’s alert system at about 7.46 am local time in the prefectures of Niigata, Yamagata and Miyagi, although the defense ministry later said that the projectile, which fell into the Pacific Ocean, did not fly over the archipelago.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that the latest string of missile launches from North Korea, which on Wednesday fired a one-day record of around 20 projectiles, was “unacceptable.”
One of the missiles that Pyongyang fired Wednesday crashed into waters just 57 kilometers from the South Korean east coast – the first time in history that a North Korean missile has crossed the maritime border and fallen next to the territory of the neighboring country.
Seoul responded by firing three air-to-ground missiles into waters along the northern coast, also unprecedented and further increasing the tension in the region.
On Thursday evening, South Korean and Japanese authorities detected three more short-range ballistic missiles.
The North Korean launches appear to be in response to large-scale air exercises that Seoul and Washington are carrying out until Friday. EFE