TOKYO — Two days after North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan, it launched what appeared to be two more short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday morning, Japan’s Defense Ministry reported.
The launches mark the 24th time this year that North Korea has conducted missile tests, and suggest the country is drastically escalating its missile-testing program. The missile fired on Tuesday was the first from North Korea to fly over Japan in five years.
North Korea appears to be intensifying its missile-testing program in advance of midterm elections in the United States and as an American aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, sails in the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. aircraft carrier joined joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan last month, but after North Korea’s missile tests on Tuesday, it was ordered to sail back to the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles that landed on Thursday outside Japan’s economic exclusion zone, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry. They were launched from near Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, toward the waters off the east coast, according to the South Korean military.
In a news briefing, Yasukazu Hamada, Japan’s defense minister, said the first missile was launched at 6 a.m. and traveled about 217 miles to a maximum altitude of about 62 miles. The second missile, launched at 6:15 a.m., flew close to 500 miles to a maximum altitude of 31 miles. Mr. Hamada said the second missile followed what appeared to be an “irregular trajectory.”
In brief remarks to reporters, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan said the launches were “absolutely unacceptable.”
The launches came a day after the United States and South Korean militaries fired four MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System surface-to-surface missiles off the east coast of South Korea in a combined drill. Another South Korean ballistic missile fell immediately after takeoff during the exercise, but caused no casualties, South Korean defense officials said.
After the latest tests, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, traveling in Santiago, Chile, said: “We believe that North Korea would be much better served by not only refraining from these actions but actually engaging in dialogue. I think what we’re seeing is that if we continue down this road, it will only increase the condemnation, increase the isolation, increase the steps that are taken in response to their actions.”
With the flurry of missile tests, analysts and government officials in Tokyo, Seoul and Washington are bracing for North Korea to conduct a nuclear test, most likely this fall.
Motoko Rich reported from Tokyo, and Choe Sang-Hun from Seoul. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Santiago, Chile; and Hikari Hida and Hisako Ueno from Tokyo.