(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in last 5 paras; ADDS photo)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, March 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has test-fired a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a show of the "toughest response posture" of its strategic forces against "aggressive" massive combined drills by the United States and South Korea, Pyongyang's state media reported Friday.
The nation's leader Kim Jong-un "guided" the launch the previous day together with his young daughter Ju-ae, as it served as an occasion to "give a stronger warning to the enemies intentionally escalating the tension" on the peninsula, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
It cited the "unstable security environment" in the region attributable to "provocative and aggressive large-scale war drills," referring to the South Korea-U.S. Freedom Shield (FS) exercise under way in a program coupled with major field trainings.
The drill involving the Hwasong-17 was "aimed at confirming the mobile and normal operation and reliability of the DPRK's nuclear war deterrent," the KCNA said in an English-language report.
It confirmed "the war readiness of the ICBM unit and the exceptional militancy of the DPRK's strategic forces and strictly verified their reliability," it added, using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The KCNA said the ICBM, launched at Pyongyang International Airport, reached a maximum altitude of 6,045 kilometers and flew 1,000.2 km for 4,151 seconds before accurately landing on the preset area in the open waters off the East Sea. The Hwasong-17, called by observers here the "monster missile," was apparently shot at a lofted angle.
It came hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol had summit talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo amid Washington's campaign to bolster trilateral security cooperation with the two key regional allies to counter the North's nuclear and missile threats.
Kim was quoted as stressing the need to "strike fear into the enemies" and warning that the allies' persistent military moves against the North will only bring "irreversible, grave threat" onto themselves.
He emphasized that the North will "react to nuclear weapons with nukes and frontal confrontation in kind" and called for "strictly maintaining the rapid response posture of the strategic forces to cope with any armed conflict and war."
Photos released by the KCNA showed Kim watching the launch with his second child, presumed to be around 10 years old. The secretive regime announced the first public appearance of his daughter in November last year, as the two inspected the launch of a Hwasong-17 together.
State media also revealed pictures of Earth apparently taken from the missile in space.
Observers said the photos appear intended to show off the country's advanced technology while preparing for the launch of a military reconnaissance satellite to be completed next month.
In December last year, Pyongyang said it conducted a "final-stage" test to develop a "military reconnaissance satellite" that will put into orbit by April.
Meanwhile, South Korea's unification ministry strongly condemned the North's latest ICBM launch and urged it to immediately cease all provocations.
"It is clear the cause and responsibility for the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula lie in North Korea's reckless nuclear and missile development, and we find it very regrettable that the North is using the South Korea-U.S. joint exercise as justification for its provocations," Lee Hyo-jung, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, said at a press briefing.