The weapon North Korea fired off its East Coast on Tuesday morning was a newly-developed hypersonic missile, state media said, within the latest advance in weaponry for the nuclear-armed nation.
The development of the weapon increases North Korea’s defence capabilities, the Korean Central press agency (KCNA) said on Wednesday, describing the missile as a “strategic weapon”.
The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried an image of the weapon – with a group of guidance fins at the bottom of its ogive – ascending into the morning sky.
North Korea has been steadily developing its military arsenal amid an impasse over talks aimed toward dismantling its nuclear and missile arsenals reciprocally for relief on sanctions that have crippled its economy.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un didn’t attend the launch, which was watched by top official Pak Jong Chon, KCNA said.
“In the primary test-launch, national defence scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile,” it said.
It said the missile, called Hwasong-8, performed to its technical targets “including the guiding manoeuvrability and therefore the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead”.
The Hwasong series missiles use liquid propellant engines, consistent with Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“This is that the first test of a liquid propellant missile in North Korea since November 2017,” he said during a post on Twitter.
Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea and senior lecturer at the International College of Management Sydney, told Al Jazeera that the technology was “cutting edge”.
The test was the third by North Korea this month, with South Korea also developing increasingly sophisticated weaponry. On September 15, both countries tested ballistic missiles only hours apart. On Tuesday, Seoul held a ceremony to launch its third submarine capable of carrying submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
“Because of their speed and varied trajectories, hypersonic missiles are hard to detect, track and defend against,” Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul, said in an email.
“Advancements in fueling are intended to permit Pyongyang to fireside the missiles quickly, making them harder for other countries to preemptively target and destroy before launch. it’s unlikely that North Korea has reliably developed all the technologies its propaganda claims. However, if Pyongyang manages to suit an atomic warhead on even a rudimentary hypersonic, it might be a dangerous weapon because it wouldn’t need to be extremely accurate to threaten the nearby metropolis of Seoul.”
South Korea has been trying to entice the North back to engagement; however, talks on denuclearisation have stalled since 2019 after the collapse of a summit between Kim and former US President Donald Trump.
North Korea said last week it had been willing to think about another summit with South Korea if mutual respect between the neighbours might be assured, following South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s involve a declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War.
South Korea’s military announced the launch shortly after it happened on Tuesday but didn’t reveal the missile’s maximum altitude and flight distance, information that it always makes available within about an hour.
South Korean media reports cited unidentified sources as saying the projectile had “different flight features” from previous launches and President Moon Jae-in involved “comprehensive analysis” of the launch. Japan said it had been a missile.
North Korea, which invaded South Korea in 1950, is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its banned weapon of mass destruction and missile programmes. it’s already tested a long-range aircraft and a train-launched missile this month.
The US has repeatedly said it’s willing to satisfy North Korean officials anywhere, at any time, without preconditions, in its efforts to resume negotiations on denuclearisation. It condemned Tuesday’s launch as a sanctions violation and a threat to the international community.
Lim Eul-Chul, a professor at the Institute for many Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, said that North Korea was looking to use its weapons development “as a way to form room for diplomatic manoeuvering also as enhancing military posture”.
Lim said he expected more launches within the future.
“In how the North’s recent behaviour is extremely predictable,” he told the AFP press agency.
“They had signalled military actions and are now executing them step by step.”