North Korea claims successful test of hypersonic missile

North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful flight test of a hypersonic missile he claimed would significantly increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrence”.

North Korean state media reported on Wednesday that the armies of the United States, South Korea and Japan said they had detected North Korea firing a suspected ballistic missile into its eastern seas.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Tuesday’s launch involved a hypersonic glide vehicle that, after being released from a rocket booster, performed a “glide jump flight” and a “corkscrew maneuver” before hitting a sea target 621 miles away. Exhibited.

Images released by the agency show a missile with a pointed cone-shaped payload flying into the sky while leaving a trail of orange flames and Mr Kim watching from a small cabin with top officials .

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, inspects the test launch (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The launch was North Korea’s second test of its alleged hypersonic missile in a week as Mr Kim continued a defiant push to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities in the face of international sanctions, pandemic difficulties and standoff diplomacy with the United States .

The North is ramping up its testing activity, which experts see as an attempt to apply more pressure on rivals Washington and Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of getting relief from economic sanctions.

The KCNA said Mr Kim praised the achievements made by his military scientists and officials involved in developing the hypersonic missile system, which he called the most important of a new five-year plan announced in early 2021 to build the north’s military power. told part.

North described the new missile as part of its “strategic” warhead, meaning a system is being developed to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds greater than Mach 5 or more than five times the speed of sound, can pose a significant challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability.

Such weapons were on the wish-list of sophisticated military assets Mr Kim unveiled early last year along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles .

Experts say North Korea is years away from achieving a reliable hypersonic system. But Mr Kim’s appearance at Tuesday’s launch and what state media described as “the final test-fire” indicate that the North was likely moving toward deploying the weapon relatively soon.

“The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more clearly verified through final test-fire,” KCNA said.

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The launch was the second test by North Korea of ​​its alleged hypersonic missile in a week (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

It said Mr Kim stressed the need for the country to “expand and further modernize the military’s strategic military strength, both in quality and quantity”, and that military scientists continue their success in “significantly enhancing the country’s combat deterrence”. encouraged to keep.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington condemns the North’s latest launch, 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 immediate threat to the US territory or its allies.

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

South Korea’s Defense Ministry on January 5 rejected North Korea’s first test, insisting that the North had exaggerated its capabilities after testing a conventional ballistic missile and expressing doubts. that the North had acquired the technologies needed for hypersonic weapons.

After Tuesday’s launch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the North demonstrated a more advanced capability than its previous test, but did not elaborate further.

Mr Kim entered the new year renewing his pledge to strengthen his military forces, even as the nation grapples with difficulties related to the pandemic, which has further strained its economy, has been crippled by US-led sanctions on its nuclear program.