SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea fired a “supersonic missile” this week that successfully hit a target, state news agency KCNA reported Thursday.
Wednesday’s launch was North Korea’s first since October and was spotted by several military personnel in the region, drawing criticism from governments in the United States, South Korea and Japan.
North Korea tested a hypersonic missile for the first time in September, joining a race between the major military powers to use the advanced weapons system.
Hypersonic weapons typically fly at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles and can reach more than five times the speed of sound – or around 6,200 km per hour (3,850 mph).
Despite their name, analysts say that the main characteristic of hypersonic weapons is not speed – which can sometimes be matched or exceeded by conventional ballistic missile warheads – but their maneuverability.
In Wednesday’s test, the “hypersonic sliding warhead” detached itself from its rocket engine and maneuvered 120 km (75 miles) sideways before “precisely hitting” a target 700 km away, KCNA reported.
The missile demonstrated its ability to combine “multi-step gliding and strong lateral maneuvering,” KCNA said.
The test also confirmed components like the flight controls and their ability to operate in winter, KCNA added.
“The successive successes in test launches in the hypersonic missile sector are of strategic importance as they accelerate a task of modernizing the state’s strategic armed forces,” the KCNA report said.
Although it has not tested atomic bombs or long-range ICBMs (ICBMs) since 2017, in recent years North Korea has developed and launched a number of more maneuverable missiles and warheads that are likely aimed at providing anti-missile defense like those of South Korea and the United States, said analysts.
“My impression is that the North Koreans have identified hypersonic gliders as a potentially useful qualitative means of addressing missile defense,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow of the US Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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Hypersonic weapons are considered to be the next generation of weapons aimed at stealing reaction time and traditional defenses from opponents.
Last month, the United States completed construction of a massive, $ 1.5 billion long-range radar for a home missile defense system in Alaska that is said to be able to track ballistic missiles as well as hypersonic weapons from countries like North Korea.
Photos of the missile used in Wednesday’s test show what analysts say is a liquid-fuel ballistic missile with a conical-shaped maneuverable re-entry vehicle (MaRV) launched in a flame and smoke from a wheeled launcher.
It’s a different version than the weapon tested last year and was first unveiled at a defense exhibition in Pyongyang in October, Panda said.
“You probably have at least two separate development programs in place,” he added. “One of them was the Hwasong-8, which was tested in September. This rocket, which has some similarities with the Hwasong-8, is a different one. “
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the North Korean missile launch in a telephone conversation with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Thursday and discussed cooperation for the complete denuclearization and permanent pacification of the Korean peninsula, according to the US State Department said in a statement.
Talks aimed at getting North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal have stalled since a series of summit meetings between President Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump failed without an agreement.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is open to talks with North Korea, but Pyongyang said American overtures are empty rhetoric without more substantial changes to “hostile policies” such as military exercises and sanctions.
The final test took place just hours before South Korean President Moon Jae-in took part in laying the foundation stone for a railway line he hopes will eventually link the divided Korean peninsula, and casts doubt on his hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea in the eleventh hour before its 5th year period ends in May.