North Korea on Wednesday announced it successfully test-fired a new hypersonic missile a day earlier and implied that it would be nuclear-capable, making it the latest in the series of advanced weapons deployed by the reclusive state as it continues to engage in an escalating arms race with chief rival South Korea.
South Korea, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Japan had acknowledged the missile launch on Tuesday, but at the time it was believed to be a ballistic missile.
On Wednesday, North Korean state media confirmed the test involved a new hypersonic missile that successfully met all technical requirements.
The report referred to the new missile as a “strategic weapon,” which strongly implies that it is being designed of carrying a nuclear warhead.
A photo of the test launch published by the country’s state-controlled media showed a conical warhead with fins mounted on top of a missile at the time of launch.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff assessed the test launch and determined that the missile was at an early stage of development and North Korea would need “considerable time” to deploy it operationally.
A hypersonic missile can travel at least five times the speed of sound or Mach 5 and it is considered a next-generation weapon system currently being developed and tested by countries like the U.S., Russia, and China. Unlike ballistic missiles which travel a steep trajectory that takes them into space before returning back to earth, hypersonic weapons fly towards the target at much lower altitudes—inside the earth’s atmosphere—giving the adversary lesser time to react and respond. A series of resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) bans North Korea from testing ballistic missiles. Although Pyongyang has shown little regard for the ban—test-firing two ballistic missiles just this month—a hypersonic missile test could allow it to circumvent the ban while still developing a deadly weapons platform.
The new weapons test takes place in the backdrop of an escalating arms race between the two Koreas. Earlier this month, North Korea conducted two ballistic missile tests including one that was launched from a train that is part of its “railway-borne missile regiment.” In retaliation, South Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile, making it only the seventh country in the world to possess this advanced capability. Nuclear disarmament talks between North Korea and the United States remain stalled since the breakdown of talks between the two countries in 2019. Following Tuesday’s launch, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN General Assembly, Kim Song, said that his country will “respond willingly” if the U.S. abandons its “hostile policy.” In defense of North Korea’s growing arsenal of weapons Kim noted that the possible outbreak of a new war in the Korean peninsula is contained not by the U.S.’s “mercy” but rather due to Pyongyang building a “reliable deterrent that can control the hostile forces.
North Korea says hypersonic missile made 1st test flight (Associated Press)
N.Korea tests new hypersonic missile as it ramps up weapon systems (Reuters)