The North Koreans moved an unknown number of medium range ballistic missiles to the east coast in advance of what some analysts feel could signal a test launch.
With the region on hair trigger alert, such a launch would be a serious provocation.
North Korea has begun moving its mid-range missile launchers, possibly indicating a looming test as tensions are already boiling on the peninsula, U.S. officials told Fox News.
Reuters reported early Friday that North Korea has placed two of its intermediate range missiles on mobile launchers and hidden them on the east coast of the country, citing a South Korean news agency.
South Korea said Thursday North Korea moved a missile with "considerable range" to its east coast after an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean army warned the U.S. Wednesday that its military has been cleared to wage an attack using "smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear" weapons.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin dismissed reports in the Japanese and South Korean media that the missile could be a KN-08, which is believed to be a long-range missile that if operable could hit the United States.
Kim told lawmakers at a hearing that the missile's range is considerable but not far enough to hit the U.S. mainland. He said he did not know the reasons behind the missile movement, saying it "could be for testing or drills."
The range he described could refer to a mobile North Korean missile known as the Musudan, which has a range of 1,800 miles. That would make Japan and South Korea potential targets, but little is known about the missile's accuracy.
Most analysts doubt the North Koreans have mastered the very difficult engineering and technical problems in order to build a nuclear warhead that could fit on top of any of their unreliable and inaccurate missiles. But no one can afford to take the chance they're wrong. A missile launch that would fly over Japanese territory could trigger the firing of one of several anti-missile systems in the region resulting in the missile's destruction and a probable military response by Kim Jong-Un.
Meanwhile, more empty threats from Kim:
"We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means," an unnamed spokesman from the General Bureau of the Korean People's Army said in a statement carried by state media, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "The U.S. had better ponder over the prevailing grave situation."
It is extremely doubtful that North Korea has a "smaller, lighter, diversified nuclear strike" capability. This is simple bombast, but statements like that serve to put the region on the knife's edge of conflict.
The North Koreans have also closed a factory park owned jointly with the South Korean government and prevented workers from crossing into North Korean territory. This is one more sign, if one was needed, that this crisis is different than any previous provocations by the North Koreans in the last few decades.