(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES para 2-4)
SEOUL, March 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired off 18 short-range missiles toward the East Sea late Sunday, Seoul's military said, the latest show of force in response to the ongoing joint South Korea-U.S. military drills.
The North began launching 10 projectiles at 6:20 p.m. over the span of 10 minutes. The launches began again at around 8:03 p.m., and the other eight rockets were fired in the period of five minutes, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The fired rockets flew about 70 kilometers before landing in the East Sea, according to the military.
"The rockets were fired from (North Korea's) east coastal region near Wonsan and flew eastward," the military said. "The projectiles' maximum range is presumed to be 70 km."
The military is maintaining utmost combat readiness in order to brace for the possibility of more launches, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
"(We) call on North Korea to stop further provocative actions," it said.
The military assumed the launched projectiles to be the so-called FROG short-range surface-to-surface missiles from what was the Soviet Union, which the North introduced in the 1960's.
The North has previously conducted several rounds of similar military provocations, apparently in protest of the ongoing military drills, which the communist country condemns as a rehearsal for an invasion. The military said Sunday's launches could also be part of the North's winter-season military exercises.
The Key Resolve command post exercises, the major joint drill, ended earlier in the month, while the Foal Eagle combat field training runs until April 18 and involves 7,500 American troops.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter North Korean aggression. South and North Korea remain technically in a state of war, as the Korean War ended in a ceasefire and not a peace treaty.
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