(LEAD) N. Korea fires several cruise missiles off west coast: JCS

North Korea fired several cruise missiles off the west coast Friday, the South Korean military said, in the latest in a series of the North's cruise missile launches this year. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the North's launch at around 11 a.m. from its west coast. It did not specify the number of missiles. "While strengthening our monitoring and vigilance, our military has been closely coordinating with the United States to monitor additional signs of North Korea's provocations," the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. It marked the North's fourth cruise missile launch this year. The latest launch came just three days after the North fired the Hwasal-2 cruise missile off the west coast. On Jan. 24, North Korea test-fired a new strategic cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, named Pulhwasal-3-31, for the first time. The country fired submarine-launched cruise missiles off the east coast Sunday, later saying that they were Pulhwasal-3-31s. Cruise missiles, pow ered by jet engines, fly low and maneuver, making them harder to detect and intercept. Hwasal means an "arrow" in Korean, and Pulhwasal means a "fire arrow." The cruise missiles add threats to the South Korean air defense system at a time when North Korea has been improving capabilities of ballistic missiles with varying ranges, warheads and launch platforms. Experts say the submarine-launched cruise missiles could pose a serious threat to South Korea's air defense system if perfected, as they are harder to detect and shoot down due to their low-flying altitude and precision strike capabilities. Source: Yonhap News Agency