North Korea claims successful test of hypersonic missile

North Korea says President Kim Jong-un oversaw a successful flight test of a hypersonic missile that he claimed would remarkably increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrent”.

The North Korean state media report today (Wednesday) came a day after the armed forces of the United States, South Korea and Japan said they had discovered that North Korea had fired a suspected ballistic missile into its eastern sea.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the launch on Tuesday involved a hypersonic glide vehicle that demonstrated “glide jump” and “corkscrew maneuvers” after being released from the rocket booster before hitting a sea target 621 miles away.

Photos released by the agency showed a rocket with a pointed cone-shaped payload soaring into the sky as it left a trail of orange flames and Mr Kim watching from a small cabin filled with senior officials.

The launch marked North Korea’s second test of its alleged hypersonic missile in a week as Mr Kim continues his defiant attempt to expand his nuclear weapons capabilities in the face of international sanctions, pandemic troubles and stalled diplomacy with the United States.

The North has stepped up testing activities in what experts see as an attempt to put more pressure on rivals Washington and Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of gaining relief from economic sanctions.

The KCNA said Mr. Kim praised the achievements of his military scientists and officials who helped develop the hypersonic missile system, which he identified as the most important part of a new five-year plan announced in early 2021 to build the armed forces of the North.

The North has referred to the new missile as part of its “strategic” armament, implying that the system will be developed to deliver nuclear weapons.

Hypersonic weapons that travel at speeds greater than Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound could pose a critical challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability.

Such weapons were on a wish list of sophisticated military equipment that Mr. Kim introduced earlier last year, along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid fuel missiles and nuclear missiles launched from submarines.

Experts say North Korea is likely years away from acquiring a credible hypersonic system. But Mr Kim’s presence at Tuesday launch and the state media’s description of it as a “final test fire” suggested that the North may have been working towards using the weapon relatively soon.

“The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glider was confirmed even more impressively by the last test fire,” said KCNA.

It said Mr. Kim stressed the need to “accelerate the expansion of the country’s strategic military strength, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and further modernize the army” and encouraged military scientists to continue their success in “remarkably increasing the country’s war deterrent.” .

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington has condemned the North’s recent start, which violates several UN Security Council resolutions and poses a threat to neighbors and the wider international community.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch highlighted the “destabilizing effects of (North Korea’s) illegal weapons program” but did not pose an imminent threat to US territory or its allies.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff had said the North Korean missile had flown at a top speed of about 10 Mach 434 miles before landing in waters off the east coast of the north.

The South Korean Ministry of Defense had downplayed North Korea’s earlier test on Jan. 5, insisting that the North exaggerated its capabilities after testing a conventional ballistic missile, and expressed doubts that the North had acquired the technology needed for hypersonic weapons.

Following the launch on Tuesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the North has shown more advanced capabilities compared to its previous test, but has not carried out any further.

Mr. Kim stepped into the new year and renewed his vows to strengthen his armed forces as the nation grapples with pandemic-related troubles that have further weighed on its economy and crippled by US-led sanctions over its nuclear program.

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