North Korea has faced a chorus of condemnation for its latest ballistic missile tests, which were personally supervised by Kim Jong-un. Photographs show the isolated state's leader looking through binoculars and smiling as the four missiles were launched into the sea towards Japan.

North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
7 March 2017: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill carried out by the Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's ArmyKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
7 March 2017: A ballistic rocket launching drill is carried out by the Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army, supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong-unKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
7 March 2017: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un acknowledges the applause as he supervises the launch of ballistic rocketsKCNA/Reuters

The missiles flew on average 1,000km (620 miles) and reached an altitude of 260km. Some landed as close as 300km from Japan's northwest coast. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles fired by the North were believed to be "improved versions" of Scud missiles. South Korean experts say the extended-range Scuds and mid-range Rodong missiles are capable of hitting Japan, including US military bases in Okinawa.

The missile tests were a protest against ongoing US-South Korean military drills that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal. The launches involved artillery units tasked with striking "US imperialist aggressor forces in Japan," according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim "ordered the KPA (Korean People's Army) Strategic Force to keep highly alert as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out anytime," a KCNA dispatch said.

Kim Jong-un has attended many missile tests over the past few years, smiling and cheering as he offers what KCNA describes as "field guidance".

North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
13 February 2017: A Pukguksong-2 missile is test-fired at a launch attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-unKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
13 February 2017: Military figures cheer as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guides the test-firing of a Pukguksong-2 missileKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
6 September 2016: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un provides field guidance during a test launch of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic ForceKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
25 August 2016: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un celebrates with soldiers during the test-firing of a strategic submarine-launched ballistic missileKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
23 June 2016: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un celebrates the launch of ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic rocket Hwasong-10KCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
24 April 2016: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guides the test-firing of strategic submarine ballistic missilesKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
24 April 2016: A strategic submarine ballistic missile is launched in a test attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-unKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
22 March 2016: A rocket is launched during a demonstration of a new large-caliber multiple rocket launching system attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-unKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
15 March 2016: Kim Jong-un gives instructions during a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in North KoreaKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
15 March 2016: Kim Jong-un looks at a rocket warhead after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in North KoreaKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
11 March 2016: Kim Jong-un watches as a ballistic rocket is launched by the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army at an unknown location in North KoreaKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
4 March 2016: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un smiles as he attends a test firing of a new multiple launch rocket systemKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
7 February 2016: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watches a long range rocket launch into the airKyodo/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
12 October 2015: North Korea marks the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party with a massive military parade overseen by leader Kim Jong-un, who said his country was ready to fight any war waged by the United StatesKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
15 June 2015: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un smiles during the test-firing of anti-ship missiles at seaKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
9 May 2015: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watches the test-firing of a strategic submarine underwater ballistic missileKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
27 February 2015: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reacts during the test-firing of an anti-tank guided weaponKCNA/Reuters
North Korea Kim Jong-un missiles
10 July 2014: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a tactical rocket firing drill carried out by units of the Korean People's Army Strategic ForceKCNA/Reuters

Ju Yong Choi, a North Korean diplomat, told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva that the annual drills were "a major cause of escalation of tension that might turn into actual war" on the divided Korean peninsula. "The ongoing joint military exercise is carried out with massive mobilisation of troops, unprecedented in size, and various types of US strategic forces including nuclear carriers, nuclear strategic bombers and stealth fighters," Ju told the forum. "It will certainly jeopardise peace and stability in the region and drive the situation in the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war," he said.

The United States has started to deploy the first elements of its advanced anti-missile defence system in South Korea after North Korea's test of four ballistic missiles, US Pacific Command said, despite angry opposition from China. "Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday's launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy Thaad to South Korea," US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris said in a statement, referring to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system.

The plans to deploy Thaad within this year have angered not only NorthKorea, but also China and Russia, which see the system's powerful radars as a security threat. China responded quickly, saying it will take "necessary measures" to protect itself and warning that the US and South Korea should be prepared to bear the consequences.

Washington and Seoul say the system is defensive and not meant to be a threat to Beijing or Moscow. The US military said THAAD can intercept and destroy short and medium-range ballistic missiles during the last part of their flights.