North Korea says it fired new ‘hypersonic missile’

The Hwasong-8 missile firing into the sky in North Korea, according to state media
North Korean state media released a photo which it said was the Hwasong-8 missile

North Korea has claimed that it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile called Hwasong-8 on Tuesday.

State media said the new missile was one of “five most important” new weapons systems laid out in its five-year military development plan. They called the new missile a “strategic weapon”, which usually means it has nuclear capabilities. Tuesday’s launch is another indication of Pyongyang’s growing weapons technology amid strict sanctions.

“The development of this weapons system…[has increased] the nation’s capabilities for self-defence in every way,” North Korean state news outlet KCNA said. The latest launch also marked the country’s third missile test this month. It has already revealed a new type of cruise missile, as a well as a new train-launched ballistic missile system.

Hypersonic missiles are much faster and more agile than normal ones, making them much harder for missile defence systems to intercept, according to news agency AFP. KCNA stated that the test launch confirmed the “navigational control and stability of the missile”.

Ankit Panda, a Stanton Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said it was difficult at this point to assess the “precise capabilities” of the missile, but added that it could “presumably present a very different challenge for missile defence from traditional ballistic missiles”.

The new weapon also saw North Korea introduce missile fuel ampoule for the first time – described as a “significant milestone” by Mr Panda.

According to the Korea Times, missile fuel ampoule would “reduce the preparation time for a missile launch and make the weapon ready for use almost as fast as a solid-fuel missile, compared with conventional missiles that need fuel injection before firing”.

“It could make the bulk of North Korea’s long-range missile forces more responsive in a crisis and obviate the need for in-field fuelling,” Mr Panda said. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had at an earlier meeting in January declared that scientists had “finished research” into developing hypersonic gliding warheads. Tuesday’s test was the first for this new system.

The push to develop a hypersonic glider isn’t all too surprising given that Kim Jong Un had indicated this back in January,” said Mr Panda. “This is, however, a reminder that Kim’s missile ambitions are far from having run their course.” North Korea’s recent tests – this was the third one fired this month alone – indicate that it is ramping up its weapons program.

The Academy of National Defense Science conducts long-range cruise missile tests in North Korea, as pictured in this combination of undated photos supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on 13 September 2021
North Korea earlier tested a cruise missile

Shortly after yesterday’s launch, North Korean envoy Kim Song defended the country’s right to develop weapons. Speaking at the annual UN General Assembly in New York, he said the country is “building up our national defence in order to defend ourselves and reliably safeguard the security and peace of the country”. North Korea has repeatedly accused the South of double standards over military activities.

South Korea recently tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, which it said was needed as deterrence against North Korea’s “provocations”. The US has been calling for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, and Pyongyang’s relationship with President Joe Biden’s administration has so far been fraught with tension.

Japan and North Korea also have enduring tensions rooted in Japan’s 35-year colonisation of Korea, Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear and missile programmes, and the North’s past abduction of Japanese citizens. Despite this, Pyongyang seems determined to prove it will continue to develop new weapons systems, saying they are needed for its own self-defence.

Last month the UN atomic agency said North Korea appeared to have restarted a reactor which could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, calling it a “deeply troubling” development.

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