American and South Korean fighter jets conducted precision bombing drills on Tuesday in a sharp rebuke to North Korea after it fired an international ballistic missile right over Japan.
Fumio Kishida, the Japanese prime minister, called Pyongyang’s test-launch “outrageous” and “barbaric”, with residents in the north of the country sent scrambling for cover after the rarely used J-alert warning system was triggered.
The US national security council described it as “dangerous and reckless”.
Analysts have suggested North Korea may have fired off a nuclear-capable Hwasong-12 intermediate ballistic missile, which has a range capable of reaching the US territory of Guam and its military bases.
Tuesday's test was launched from the northern Chagang province at 7.22am and flew for 2,858 miles before crashing into the Pacific Ocean – the longest distance ever travelled by a North Korean weapon.
Pyongyang previously fired an IBM over Japan in 2017 but it did not travel as far. This test launch was the fifth by North Korea in the past week and its 37th this year.
In response, South Korea and the US on Tuesday released a video of a precision bombing exercise designed to demonstrate their “capabilities to conduct a precision strike at the origin of provocations”, according to Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff.
“With the participation of four South Korean Air Force F-15Ks and four US Air Force F-16 fighters, South Korea’s F-15K fired two joint direct attack munition bombs against a virtual target at the Jikdo shooting field in the West Sea,” the statement added, referring to the Yellow Sea.
South Korea echoed Japan’s anger at the latest launch, with Yoon Suk-yeol, the president, warning of a “resolute” response and convening an emergency meeting of the National Security Council.
The Japanese Ministry of Defence said eight Japanese F-15 and F-2 aircraft and four US F-35 aircraft also conducted training exercises in response in airspace west of Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island and the closest to the Korean peninsula.
In northern Japan, train operators temporarily halted services and the government issued warnings to both civilian aircraft operating in the region and ships off the north-east coast.
The launch also prompted a rare activation of Japan's early warning J-alert system, urging citizens to seek shelter, although few did.
In the provinces of Aomori and Hokkaido text messages and television broadcasts were used to tell residents to seek cover in sturdy buildings or underground.
“The J-Alert came on the television and by mobile phone just as I was getting ready to leave the house to go to work,” Hideo Okada, a property executive who lives in southern Hokkaido, told The Telegraph.
“It made me jump, but then I saw that it was a missile and I thought to myself ‘the North Koreans are crazy’,” he said. “I just carried on as normal. There was nothing I could do and the chances of being hit by the missile were tiny, so I just went to work.”
The snap military drills come as South Korea ramps up military drills with the US amid heightening tensions in the region and predictions that Pyongyang may be gearing up for a seventh nuclear test.
South Korea, Japan and the US staged anti-submarine drills last Friday - the first in five years - just days after Washington and Seoul conducted large-scale exercises in waters off the peninsula, infuriating Pyongyang, which sees such drills as a rehearsal for invasion.
Joe Biden, the US President, reiterated Washington's "ironclad commitment" to Japan's defence during a phone call with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday, the White House said in a statement.
The two leaders condemned the missile test, and confirmed they would work closely with South Korea and the international community to coordinate an immediate and longer-term response, the White House said.