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North Korea Missile Launch Comes Ahead of Major US Air Force Drills

North Korea fired its first missile in 74 days early on Wednesday, Nov. 29 local time, about a week before a massive U.S. and South Korea joint Air Force exercise begins on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the unidentified ballistic missile flew eastward from South Pyongan Province, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries are analyzing the details now.

The launch comes 6 days before the United States and South Korea will launch a massive military exercise. While the U.S. Pacific Air Force emphasized in a Nov. 25 release that the exercise is “regularly scheduled,” it will take on additional significance following the launch.

The ballistic missile launch also comes after months of threats by the North Korean regime to attack the U.S. mainland, as well as Japan and South Korea, with nuclear weapons.

Vigilant Ace, which began in 2015, is a new kind of military exercise born in the era of North Korea’s nuclear missile ambitions.

That first year, the military said it brought higher level command and control into tactical exercises, letting the Air Force practice “strategic to operational to tactical level linkages,” according to exercise planner Lt. Col. David Villa, the 7th Air Force Inspector General.

In other words, the exercise lets the Air Force practice the kind of planning and execution that a real war would require.

North Korea’s pause in missile tests had given some hope that the communist regime was attempting to meet the State Department’s requirement for a 60-day pause in launches to precede any negotiations. Wednesday’s launch erases that notion.

It remains to be seen if the launch has any impact on Vigilant Ace. This year, the brief statement on the exercise repeats that it is regularly scheduled but also mentions it highlights the longstanding alliance of the United States and South Korea, and reaffirms U.S. commitment to the peninsula.