North Korean media say Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the successful test of a hypersonic missile, while also urging his country to move forward with building more “strategic military muscle.”
- Tuesday’s launch was the third missile test conducted by North Korea in four months
- South Korean officials believe the latest missile moved at 10 times the speed of sound
- The test came when the UN Security Council met to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program
Pictures released by North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, showed Kim using binoculars to observe the second missile launch from the nuclear-armed nation in less than a week.
Hypersonic missiles are listed among the “top-priority” tasks for strategic weapons development in North Korea’s five-year plan.
After the launch, Mr Kim said North Korea should “further accelerate efforts to build the country’s strategic military muscle, both in quality and quantity, and further modernize the army,” according to the KCNA.
Tuesday’s test – which came as the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss Pyongyang’s weapons program – sparked swift condemnation, with the US State Department branding it a “threat … to the international community”.
It was the third reported North Korean test of a hypersonic, sliding missile.
The first took place four months ago and was followed by the second launch last week.
The KCNA said the latest test demonstrated “the superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glider”.
It also claimed that North Korea accurately hit a target about 1,000 kilometers away.
The South Korean military – which had cast doubt on Pyongyang’s initial allegations – said the missile fired on Tuesday had reached hypersonic speeds, showing clear signs of “progress” from last week’s test.
The missile flew 700 km at an altitude of about 60 km at a speed of Mach 10 (10 times the speed of sound or 12,348 km / h), said Seoul’s joint chief of staff.
Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of at least Mach 5 and can maneuver in mid-flight, making them harder to track and intercept.
“Everything about this test is a reminder that North Korea is all-in on a new military modernization campaign,” Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote on social media.
“Kim is working her way down her 8th party congress wish list and is once again conducting personal tests,” she wrote, referring to a recent meeting of senior North Korean officials.
Russia, the United States and China have all reported successfully tested hypersonic slip missiles.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the weapon was not ready for deployment.
“Nevertheless, Pyongyang’s ability to threaten its neighbors continues to grow,” he said.
Lim Eul-chul, professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said Mr Kim’s participation in the missile test indicates that North Korea is pleased with the level of progress.
“Since the test was the final verification, at least no further testing of hypersonic missiles is expected for some time,” Lim said.
The tests come as North Korea has refused to respond to US calls for talks.
At a key meeting of North Korea’s ruling party last month, Kim promised to continue building the country’s defense capabilities without mentioning the United States.
The dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang has still stalled, and North Korea is under several sets of international sanctions because of its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
The poor nation has also been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has hampered its economy.