With North Korea continuing to cause disturbance to its neighbors, allies South Korea, Japan, and the United States have become “more aligned than ever” against provocative behaviors in the region.

Pyongyang’s series of live missile testing (both ballistic and cruise missiles) alarmingly inching near its neighbors’ borders and waters has been the town’s talk since late September and the latest dated last Wednesday when Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reportedly fired at least one ballistic missile into the East Sea.

Japan’s Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters that “the missile flew about 250 kilometers (about 155 miles) at a very low altitude of about 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) or less.” At the same time, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) added that it had detected the origin of the launch at around 3:31 PM (KST) from the Sukchon area of South Pyongan province. The JCS also reported identifying the recovered debris from an earlier launch, saying it was not a short-range ballistic but a Soviet-era SA-5 surface-to-air missile.

The salvaged debris was among the 23 missiles fired by Pyongyang on November 2, which landed close to Seoul’s territorial waters.

Far From Modernization

An analysis by Reuters explained that the debris had shown the age of North Korea’s air defense systems and aircraft and how it is currently working on modernizing its weapons. Analysts further noted that while the nuclear-armed country makes headlines thanks to its “powerful” ballistic missiles, it has been quietly spending its resources on the other hand “into trying to find ways to counter stealth fighters” most of its adversaries have these days compared to its aging fleet.

Dragged by uptight sanctions as well as lagging behind due to shutting itself from the rest of the international community, North Korea has not imported any new combat planes since the early 2000s resorting instead to “cheaper and easier-to-use air-defense missiles.” Consequently, saving aging weapons in its arsenals like many former Soviet allies who still keep post-Cold War military equipment—including missiles, warplanes, and air defense systems, to name a few.

And the recovered SA-5 offshore South Korea was one thing to prove this, given that the design was delivered to North Korea sometime in the 1980s. Nevertheless, in 2017, the latter declared the retirement of the Soviet-era munition and replaced it with its indigenous road-mobile surface-to-air missile system called the Pon’gae-5 (KN-06) quipped with high-explosive blast-fragmentation and boasting a length of approximately 7.25 meters. Many have pointed out the visual resemblance of the KN-06 to the Russian S-300, not to mention that the truck chassis of the system is made by the Russian company KAMAZ. Despite having established a defense treaty with DPRK, Russia (as well as China) has repeatedly denied helping North Korea in any military cooperation and breaking international sanctions.

Speculations about the successor of the KN-06 surfaced last year after its state media boasted the successful testing of its “remarkable” new anti-aircraft missile. However, some analysts still stand firm that this military technology is not sophisticated enough to counter modern fast jets such as F-15 and F-16.

In a statement, the US Indo-Pacific Command said that the latest missile launch from DPRK continues not to pose an immediate threat and has strongly denounced the nuclear-equipped country for once again causing regional destabilization.

Reaffirming “Ironclad” Alliance

As the impending seventh nuclear test of North Korea continue to loom over the region, the US, Japan, and South Korea have restrengthened their alliance at the sidelines of the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, as well as reassuring a “coordinated response” against any security threat in the region.

Opening the trilateral summit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that the three-way meeting between the US, Japan, and South Korea is especially “timely” given the series of provocations done by DPRK in recent weeks. Meanwhile, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol stressed the serious threat to the international community if North Korea pushed through with its nuclear program.

It’s only a matter of when for the DPRK to resume its nuclear testing since it was halted in 2017 following the ban from the United Nations Security Council. The US has been pointing this matter out since May though no clear timeline has been released; thus, preparation for the unprecedented has been advised, especially for its closest neighbor and rival, South Korea.

Last month, President Yoon revealed before the National Assembly that, according to intelligence, “North Korea has completed preparations for the impending seventh nuclear test,” which was first detected via satellite images at its Punggye-ri test site earlier this year. And with the series of missile testing over the past week, experts predict that the nuclear test will likely follow soon after, like the previous six nuclear tests’ pattern, which was also “preceded by an escalating series of missile tests” that was conducted between 2006 and 2017.