North Korea has successfully tested a new hypersonic gliding missile, state media reported Wednesday, in what would be the nuclear-armed nation’s latest advance in weapons technology.
Tuesday’s launch was of “great strategic significance”, the official Korean Central News Agency said, as the North seeks to increase its defence capabilities a “thousand-fold”.
The launch from Jagang province “confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile”, along with “guiding manoeuvrability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead” and the engine, according to KCNA, which called it the Hwasong-8.
The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried a picture of the weapon — with a set of guidance fins at the base of its nose cone — ascending into the morning sky.
Hypersonic missiles are generally defined as travelling more than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, but South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff have — unlike their normal practice — not yet announced the weapon’s maximum altitude and flight distance.
“Based on an assessment of its characteristics such as speed, it is at an initial phase of development and will take a considerable time to be deployed,” they added.
Both Koreas are building up their weapons capabilities in what could become an arms race on the peninsula, with ramifications for neighbouring Japan, China and the wider region.
Developing the hypersonic missile was one of five “top priority” tasks in the five-year plan for strategic weapons, KCNA said.
In January, Kim offered a shopping list of goals that included hypersonic warheads, nuclear-powered submarines, reconnaissance satellites and solid-fuel ICBMs at a five-yearly ruling party congress in which he described the United States as his country’s “principal enemy”.
More launches could be expected in the future, he added: “In a way, the North’s recent behaviour is very predictable.
– Submarine launch –
On Tuesday, it held a ceremony to launch its third submarine capable of carrying SLBMs.
Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been largely at a standstill since a 2019 summit in Hanoi between leader Kim and then-president Donald Trump collapsed over sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.
In recent days, however, leader Kim’s influential sister Kim Yo Jong has dangled the prospect of an inter-Korean summit.
But North Korea has not shown any willingness to give up its arsenal, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion.