SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said on Wednesday that its leader Kim Jong Un was monitoring a successful flight test of a hypersonic missile, which he claimed would increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrent”.
The state media report came a day after the military in the United States, South Korea and Japan said they discovered that North Korea was firing a suspected ballistic missile into its eastern seas.
The Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday’s launch involved a hypersonic glider, which after its release from the rocket launcher demonstrated “glide jump flight” and “corkscrew maneuvering” before hitting an ocean target 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away. Pictures released by the agency showed a missile mounted with a pointed conical payload hovering in the sky, leaving a trail of orange flames, and Kim was looking from a small hut with top officials, including his sister Kim Yo Jong.
The launch was North Korea’s second test of its alleged hypersonic missile in a week, a type of weapon it first tested in September, when Kim Jong Un continues a defiant push to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities in the face of international sanctions, pandemic-related difficulties and deadlocks. diplomacy with the United States.
The Nordic region has increased its testing activity since last autumn, demonstrating various missiles and delivery systems that are apparently designed to overwhelm missile defense systems in the region. Experts say Kim is trying to put more pressure on rivals Washington and Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of winning exemption from economic sanctions.
It was the first time since March 2020 that North Korean state media reported Kim’s participation in a missile test.
The KCNA said Kim praised his military scientists and officials involved in the development of the hypersonic missile system, which he described as the most important part of a new five-year plan announced in early 2021 to build the Northern Military Force .
The Nordic region has described the new missile as part of its “strategic” weapons, suggesting that the system is being developed to supply nuclear weapons.
“The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glider was more strikingly verified through the final test fire,” the KCNA said. It said Kim stressed the need to accelerate the expansion of the country’s “strategic military muscle in both quality and quantity and further modernize the army” and promised further success in “remarkably increasing the country’s war deterrence.”
Hypersonic weapons flying at speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, can pose a crucial challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. Such weapons were on a wish list of sophisticated military assets that Kim unveiled last year, along with multi-explosive missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles and submarine-fired nuclear missiles.
Experts say North Korea needs more successful and longer-range tests that will take years before they get a credible hypersonic system.
“North Korea seems to believe that hypersonic weapons are game changers and provide access to the nuclear club when the United States, Russia and China race to build them,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Washington Center for New American Security. .
She said the Nordic region’s recent progress in its missile program indicates a goal of securing a “second-generation nuclear capability, making its missiles modern and more viable, reassuring the North Korean people of its military might and credibly gaining access to the nuclear club.”
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington condemned the recent Nordic launch, which violates several UN Security Council resolutions, and called on Pyongyang to engage in “sustained and substantial dialogue.”
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launch highlighted the “destabilizing effect of (North Korea’s) illegal weapons program,” but that it did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. territory or its allies.
The FAA acknowledged the “ground stop” in a tweet without giving a reason why it issued the order.
“Full operations were resumed in less than 15 minutes,” the FAA said. “The FAA takes regular precautions. We review the process around this ground stop, as we do after all such events.”
South Korea’s joint chief of staff had said the North Korean missile flew 700 kilometers (434 miles) at a maximum speed of around Mach 10 before landing in waters off the north east coast.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry had downplayed North Korea’s earlier test on January 5, insisting that North Korea exaggerate its capabilities after testing a conventional ballistic missile. Following Tuesday’s launch, the joint chief of staff acknowledged that North was demonstrating more advanced capabilities compared to its previous test.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi described the new missile as hypersonic and said the Nordic region’s efforts to advance its missile capabilities pose a serious threat to Japan. He said Japan would consider all options, including the possibility of pursuing pre-emptive strike capabilities, to strengthen its defenses.
Kim Jong Un entered the new year, renewing its commitment to strengthen its military forces, though the nation is struggling with pandemic-related difficulties that have further strained its economy, which is crippled by US-led sanctions over its nuclear program.
The economic setbacks have left Kim with little reference to his diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which derailed after their second meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for greater sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
The Biden administration, whose policies have reflected a broader shift in US focus from counter-terrorism and so-called rogue states such as North Korea and Iran to confront China, has said it is willing to resume talks with North Korea at any time without preconditions.
But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of open negotiations, saying the United States should first withdraw its “hostile policy”, a term that Pyongyang mainly uses to describe sanctions and joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.
AP writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this story.