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North Korea claims it successfully tested hypersonic missile

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Yonhap News/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)
January 06, 2022

North Korea claimed on Thursday that it has successfully test-fired a hypersonic missile for the second time.

According to the Washington Post, North Korea test-fired what neighboring nations described as a ballistic missile on Wednesday, marking a violation of a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

North Korea’s state media confirmed the test a day later. They claimed that it was a “hypersonic gliding warhead” and provided pictures that showed it was a new model unveiled at a defense exhibition late last year.

Pyongyang said in Wednesday’s test, the glider successfully detached from its rocket booster, flew 75 miles and struck its target 435 miles away. The new missile can also operate in winter weather conditions, North Korea claimed.

“It is a step forward [in the North’s weapons program]. It’s a step that the United States took in the 1980s and the South Koreans took several years ago,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California. “So it’s not some wild new science fiction technology, but it does improve their ability to deliver nuclear weapons against targets in South Korea and evade missile defenses.”

Lewis said the photos released on Thursday show the new missile is similar to weapons created in the United States in the 1980s.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) acknowledged North Korea’s launch in a Wednesday press release, calling it a “ballistic missile” with no mention of hypersonic capability.

“We are aware of the ballistic missile launch and are consulting closely with our allies and partners,” the INDOPACOM statement reads. “While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the ballistic missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program. The U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.”

North Korea first claimed to have successfully completed a hypersonic missile test in September, describing the test-launch as an achievement “of great strategic significance.”

At the time, the missile flew for about 125 miles, making it difficult for weapons experts to verify the claims. Images of the missile appeared to show what might be a hypersonic glide vehicle attached to the top of one of its long-range missiles.

In October, North Korea fired off a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) into the Sea of Japan, Japanese and South Korean officials said.

“The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from any further destabilizing acts,” INDOPACOM added in a statement shared on its website. “While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation. The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan, remains ironclad.”

Experts say Pyongyang is working to create nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons.