South Korea conducts cruise missile drill amid North’s threats

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea said yesterday it had conducted its first live-fire drill for an advanced air-launched cruise missile that would strengthen its pre-emptive strike capability against North Korea in the event of crisis.

South Korea’s military said the Taurus missile fired from an F-15 fighter jet travelled through obstacles at low altitudes before hitting a target off the country’s western coast during drills on Tuesday.

The missile, manufactured by Germany’s Taurus Systems, has a maximum range of 500 kilometres and is equipped with stealth characteristics that will allow it to avoid radar detection before hitting North Korean targets, according to Seoul’s Defence Ministry.

South Korea has been accelerating efforts to ramp up its military capabilities in face of a torrent of nuclear weapons tests by North Korea, which on September 3 conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.

Shortly after the nuke test, Seoul announced it reached an agreement with Washington to remove the warhead weight limits on South Korean ballistic missiles, which under a bilateral guideline could be built for a maximum range of 800 kilometres.

In this photo provided by the South Korea Defence Ministry, a South Korean air force F-15K fighter jet releases a Taurus missile during a drill off the country’s western coast, South Korea yesterday
A visitor walks by the wire fence decorated with ribbons carrying messages to wish for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea yesterday. – PHOTOS: AP

A pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang’s leadership would be difficult to undertake, but it’s widely seen as the most realistic of the limited military options Seoul has to deny a nuclear attack from its rival.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it found a small amount of radioactivity in air samples collected days after the North’s test.

The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said the discovery of the xenon-133 isotope is linked to the recent test but it couldn’t verify exactly what kind of bomb was detonated because several other isotopes that typically accompany a nuclear explosion were not found.

Those isotopes could show if the bomb tested on September 3 was a plutonium or uranium device, according to the South Korean agency. It said it also hasn’t found traces of tritium, which accompany a test of a thermonuclear, or hydrogen, bomb.

North Korea is thought to be getting better at concealing its nuclear work, making radioactivity less detectable from a distance.