South Korea has successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), becoming the first country without nuclear weapons to develop such a system as it aims to better counter North Korea's growing threats.
South Korea's missile test came the same day as North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles off its east coast, breaching UN sanctions and ratcheting up regional tensions just days after testing a cruise missile with possible nuclear capabilities.
President Moon Jae-in attended an underwater ejection test of the SLBM aboard the new 3000 tonne class Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine commissioned last month, his office said.
The test would make South Korea the first country to launch it without nuclear weapons, which are typically used to arm SLBMs, following the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and India.
North Korea has unveiled a series of its own SLBMs in recent years, and is building an operational submarine to deploy them, Seoul officials have said.
"Possessing a SLBM has significant meaning in securing deterrence against omnidirectional threats, and it is expected to play a key role in building self-defence capability and peace on the Korean peninsula," Moon's office said in a statement.
The military has also developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile to be deployed in the near future, and a new ballistic missile that has "overwhelming counterattack capability" by firing a larger warhead, Moon's office said.
It added that the military in July successfully carried out a fire test of a solid fuel propulsion system to be used for space vehicles.
Pyongyang has been steadily developing its weapons program amid a standoff over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for US sanctions relief.
The negotiations, initiated between former US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, have stalled since 2019.
"North Korea fired two unidentified ballistic missiles from its central inland region toward the east coast, and intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting detailed analysis for further information," South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement on Tuesday.
The missiles were fired just after 12.30pm, flying 800km to a maximum altitude of 60km, the JCS reported.
The US military's Indo-Pacific Command said North Korea's missile launches did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel, territory, or allies, but highlight the destabilising impact of its illicit weapons program.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called North Korea's missile launches "outrageous", and strongly condemned the action as a threat to peace and security of the region.
The ballistic missile tests are North Korea's first since March this year and a further breach of UN sanctions.
In November 2017, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the entire United States and declared it had become a nuclear power. It has since focused mainly on testing shorter range missile and rockets.
North Korea this year declared it is seeking to miniaturise nuclear warheads, which could potentially be fitted to tactical missiles.
North Korea said it successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile last weekend, calling it "a strategic weapon of great significance." Analysts say that weapon could be the country's first cruise missile with a nuclear capability.
Australian Associated Press