North Korea fires missiles into East Sea. Has U.S., South Korea taken precautions?

North Korea fired three short-range missiles from North Pyongan into the East Sea around 5:30 a.m., Monday, an hour before China opened a new liaison office with Pyongyang.

The firing is suspected to be in protest against the U.S.-South Korean joint military exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which began on Monday and will end on August 28th. In fact, Pyongyang has been conducting several missile tests since last week as if it were a prelude to war drills between Washington and Seoul.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), two projectiles travelled about 220 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 40 km, while another flew 210 km at an apogee of 30 . The JCS said that the missiles were still within the atmosphere and flying at a low speed.

It is unusual that three projectiles were fired simultaneously, as Pyongyang has been firing two projectiles at a time since last August. The JCS said it will continue to analyze the situation and prepare for countermeasures.

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) held an unscheduled security council meeting on Monday morning and decided to strengthen monitoring on North Korean shipping activity under way near its coasts. It also decided to take precautions against possible attacks including missile launches and commando raids by mobilizing all military assets in areas along the DMZ. According to defense sources, South Korea has already deployed Aegis destroyers equipped with SM-3 interceptors at both Yellow Sea coasts in case of missile attacks.

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Wednesday morning, according to South Korean military officials. North Korea has not made any public statements about this incident so far. The Pentagon is still trying to determine what type of missile was launched and whether it was a test or preparation for an attack.

Washington’s precautious action is based on the supposition that North Korea has completed preparations for a missile launch. It seems that the U.S. has continuously monitored North Korean activities over the past few months as Pyongyang has been making efforts to upgrade its long-range missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

According to some sources, Pyongyang may fire an SLBM off its East Coast or try to conduct a test launch of one around Sepetmber 9th when it celebrates the 71st anniversary of its foundation day. On this day last year, North Korea conducted its first ever flight-test of new Scud ER (extended range) which flew about 500 km and fell into waters 90 km west of Japan’s Oga Peninsula.

Since North Korea has threatened to launch a missile attack against U.S.’s Pacific territory of Guam, the U.S., South Korea and Japan are keeping close watch on Pyongyang’s missile launch site near China’s borders. During this time, the North has refrained from provocative actions and is keeping low-key readiness in its military drills near the DMZ. But following Monday morning’s missile launches, it appears that Pyongyang may deliberately escalate tension during Washington and Seoul’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) drill which lasts till August 31st. According to the MND, Pyongyang fired two short-range missiles into waters off Wonsan at dawn Aug 20th and launched three mid-range missiles into waters 45-50 km east of the East Coast at 8:04 p.m., 10 minutes before an unscheduled press conference by President Park Geun-hye’s office over North Korea’s fourth nuclear test the day before.

According to reports, Pyongyang fired three short-range missiles into waters off Wonsan early Monday morning, taking place within a week after it launched two projectiles with a range of about 200 kilometers on Wednesday and Thursday into waters off its east coast. The MND said that the North may have launched them as part of its routine military drills aimed at strengthening preparedness against possible attacks by South Korea and the U.S., but added that they are still analyzing whether Pyongyang really did fire them amid heightened tensions surrounding the peninsula.

The MND reported that the projectiles were launched from south of Wonsan around 5:40 a.m. and flew about 220 km eastward before crashing into waters off the coast. The missiles had a range of some 200 kilometers, according to South Korean defense officials (the North’s missiles with such a range can hit all parts of South Korea except for Jeju Island). One is believed to be an upgraded version of 240 mm multiple rocket launcher (MRL) M-1985 while another might have been newly developed by Pyongyang as it has not been introduced in any previous drills or tests (use of extended-range SCUD missile in 2014). They added that the third projectile was suspected to be either 170 mm caliber KN-09 MRL or 240 mm M1985 MRL.