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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

North Korea says Kim Jong-un oversaw third hypersonic missile test


North Korea says it has conducted another hypersonic missile test, under the watch of its leader Kim Jong-un.

According to state media, the missile fired on Tuesday successfully turned before hitting its target in the sea 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) away.

It is North Korea’s third reported test of a hypersonic missile, which can evade detection for longer periods of time than ballistic missiles.

Mr Kim’s presence could indicate the technology has improved, say analysts.

The latest ramp-up in testing would appear to support Mr Kim’s stated New Years goals, where he vowed to bolster North Korea’s defence capabilities.

It came as six countries, including the United States, issued a joint statement condemning last week’s apparent test and urging North Korea to stop its “destabilising actions” in the region.

According to the news site Yonhap, South Korea’s military initially downplayed the hypersonic missile claims, but later stated that it demonstrated “improvement” over previous tests.

The North Korean state news agency KCNA praised the test, saying the missile’s “superior manoeuvrability” had been “strikingly verified through the final test-fire.”

According to their report, the glide missile took a 600 km (375 mile) “glide jump flight,” then 240 km of “corkscrew manoeuvring” before hitting its target.

In September 2021, the closed-off nation reported conducting a hypersonic missile test for the first time.

Why are North Korea’s hypersonic missiles so worrying?

For several reasons, hypersonic glide missiles are dangerous.

In contrast to ballistic missiles, which travel in a largely predictable parabola, making them vulnerable to intercept, hypersonic weapons can traverse laterally, close to the earth’s surface, and hit a target in a much shorter flight time.

Furthermore, hypersonic weapons can travel at speeds up to five times the speed of sound, or approximately 6,200 km/h (3,850mph). All of these characteristics make them more difficult to track and intercept.

According to the BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, these hypersonic missiles are also concerning because they leave nations guessing as to whether they carry a conventional high explosive warhead or a nuclear one.

North Korea has joined a small group of countries, including the US and China, in attempting to develop hypersonic missiles.

During the on-site inspection, Mr Kim called for the country’s “strategic military muscle, both in quality and quantity,” according to South Korean news outlet Yonhap.

Analysts say it’s the first time he’s been known to attend a missile launch since March 2020, and the publicity surrounding his appearance is significant.

“While [Mr] Kim most likely unofficially attended other tests in the interim,” Chad O’Carroll, chief executive of the Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea, told Reuters.

“It implies that [Mr] Kim is unconcerned about being personally associated with major new technology tests. And is unconcerned about how the United States perceives this.”

The US and UN have issued repeated warnings and imposed sanctions to deter North Korean nuclear testing, but Kim Jong-un has defied them thus far.


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