North Korea launches cruise missile towards Yellow Sea; intensifies conflict

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported the cruise missile launches at approximately 7 am (GMT +9) emphasizing that the specifications are undergoing close analysis by both South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities.

North Korea launched several cruise missiles towards the Yellow Sea on Wednesday, according to South Korea’s military. This latest move adds to the heightened tensions fueled by Pyongyang’s accelerated weapons testing in the new year. Recent tests included what North Korea referred to as an “underwater nuclear weapon system” and a solid-fueled hypersonic ballistic missile.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported the cruise missile launches at approximately 7 am (GMT +9) emphasizing that the specifications are undergoing close analysis by both South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities. Notably, unlike ballistic missiles, the testing of cruise missiles is not prohibited under current United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

Cruise missiles, being jet-propelled and flying at lower altitudes, present challenges in detection and interception compared to more sophisticated ballistic missiles. This launch coincides with South Korea conducting a 10-day special forces infiltration drill off its east coast, citing “serious security situations.”

Tensions between North and South Korea have escalated in recent months, marked by the abandonment of key tension-reducing agreements, increased border security, and live-fire drills along the border. Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared South Korea the “principal enemy,” dismantling agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach while threatening war over even minor territorial infringements.

Kim’s declaration also included refusing recognition of the de facto maritime border, the Northern Limit Line, and calling for constitutional changes allowing North Korea to “occupy” Seoul in the event of war. President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea responded by stating that any provocation by North Korea would be met with a response “multiple times stronger.”

Kim’s year-end policy meetings featured threats of a nuclear attack on the South, coupled with a call for a military arsenal buildup ahead of a warned armed conflict. Earlier this month, North Korea launched a solid-fuel hypersonic missile, following live-fire exercises near the tense maritime border with South Korea, prompting counter-exercises and evacuation orders for some southern islands.

Moreover, Kim successfully placed a spy satellite into orbit late last year, reportedly with Russian assistance in exchange for arms transfers to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine. As international concerns mount, the situation on the Korean Peninsula remains volatile.