North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday in what some analysts in Seoul say could be a veiled threat against the U.S. strategic nuclear submarine that docked in South Korea's port city hours earlier.
Two short-range ballistic missiles fired from the Sunan area near the capital Pyongyang were detected between 3:30 and 3:46 a.m., according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The missiles traveled for about 550 kilometers before splashing into waters east of the Korean peninsula, it said.
Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada put the missiles' detected range at up to 600 kilometers with their top altitude at 50 kilometers, saying it's possible they flew at an irregular trajectory.
The launches were unacceptable, the Japanese defense minister said, adding its foreign ministry has lodged a protest.
Five hundred fifty kilometers is precisely the distance between Sunan and Busan, where the USS Kentucky (SSBN-737) is ported, notes Kim Dong Yup, professor of military and security studies at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.
It's possible that North Korea, which is in its summer military training period, will soon announce that it conducted an exercise to simulate detonating a tactical nuclear warhead mounted on its version of the Iskander over South Korea's southern port, where the U.S. ballistic missile submarine is known to be, Kim said.
North Korea has for weeks warned against the deployment of the U.S. nuclear submarine, which can carry 20 Trident II ballistic missiles, capable of traveling some 12,000 kilometers with multiple nuclear warheads.
The U.S. had pledged to South Korea in April to "further enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula, as evidenced by the upcoming visit of a U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine to [South Korea]," as recorded in the Washington Declaration.
It marks the first such deployment since the USS Robert E. Lee ballistic missile submarine made a port call in South Korea in March of 1981.
Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un had warned, "The U.S. should be aware that the DPRK's mode and scope of counteraction may be freer along with the increased 'visibility' of deploying strategic assets on the Korean peninsula," in a state media post last week, referring to North Korea by its official acronym.
Meanwhile, North Korea has yet to make any mention of the American soldier who according to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "willfully and without authorization" crossed into the North's territory Tuesday afternoon at the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the heavily fortified border dividing the two Koreas, still technically at war.
Twenty-three year old Private 2nd Class Travis King had made a dash while part of a JSA orientation tour, according to U.S. officials. It is also unclear how he made it to the JSA from the main international airport in Incheon, about 85 kilometers away, where he was supposed to be on a flight back to the U.S. where he was reportedly due to face disciplinary action.