SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea said on Thursday it had successfully completed the second test flight of a hypersonic missile, days after Chief Kim Jong Un pledged to bolster its military forces despite difficulties related to the pandemic.
Wednesday’s launch, the North’s first known weapons test in about two months, indicates the country will continue with plans to modernize its nuclear and missile arsenals rather than resuming disarmament talks anytime soon.
The official Korean Central News Agency said the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party had expressed “great satisfaction” at the results of the missile test, which was observed by key weapons officials.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose critical challenges to missile defense systems due to their speed and maneuverability. It’s unclear if and how soon North Korea could make such a high-tech missile, but it was part of a wishlist of sophisticated military assets that Kim leaked early last year, as well as a multi-warhead missile, spy satellites, solid fuel long-range missiles and nuclear submarine launch missiles.
Wednesday’s test was the second of its kind since North Korea first launched a hypersonic missile last September.
“The successive successes of test launches in the hypersonic missile sector are of strategic importance as they accelerate a task of modernizing the state’s strategic armed forces,” a KCNA report said.
The word “strategic” implies that the missile is developed to launch nuclear weapons.
KCNA said the missile made a 120-kilometer (75-mile) lateral movement before hitting a target 700 kilometers (435 miles) away. He said the test reconfirmed the missile’s flight control and stability and checked its fuel capsule in winter weather conditions.
While North Korea appears to have made progress in developing a hypersonic missile, it still needs more test flights to determine if it is meeting its tactical goals or how well it could develop a hypersonic weapon, a declared Lee Choon Geun, expert and honorary researcher. member of the Science and Technology Policy Institute of South Korea.
A photo from the launch shows that the tops of missiles launched in September and this week have different shapes. Lee said this suggests that North Korea is testing two versions of warheads for a missile still in development or that it is actually developing two different types of hypersonic missiles.
He said the missile’s reported lateral movement would provide the weapon with greater maneuverability to evade enemy missile defense systems.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Seoul University of North Korean Studies, said North Korea is likely to move forward with its plans to strengthen weapons without being affected by external factors like the Olympic Games in Seoul. Beijing in February, the South Korean presidential election in March and a possible change in North Korean policy by the Biden administration.
“Since the United States has decided on a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, North Korea need not worry about what China would think when it performs” weapons tests, Kim said.
China is North Korea’s last great ally and aid benefactor. Some experts had predicted earlier that North Korea would not launch any provocations until the end of the Beijing Olympics.
Tae Yongho, a former North Korean diplomat who is now an MP in South Korea, wrote on Facebook that Pyongyang is keeping its borders closed due to fears over the pandemic. But he said Pyongyang was still working to perfect its missile technology to strengthen its position in future negotiations.
The latest North launch was first detected by its neighbors.
The US military called it a ballistic missile launch that “highlights the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program,” while South Korea and Japan have expressed concerns. or their regrets about the launch. China, for its part, called for dialogue and said “all parties concerned should keep the big picture in mind (and) be careful in their words and actions.”
U.S.-led diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program has stalled since 2019 due to disputes over international sanctions against the North. The Biden administration has repeatedly called for the resumption of nuclear diplomacy “anywhere, anytime” without preconditions, but North Korea argued that the United States must first withdraw its hostility against him before talks can resume.
At last week’s plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, Kim Jong Un reiterated his pledge to expand his country’s military capabilities without publicly presenting new positions on Washington and Seoul.
The North’s expanding nuclear arsenal is at the heart of Kim’s reign, and he called it a “mighty precious sword” that thwarts potential assaults from the United States. During his 10-year reign, he performed an unusually high number of weapons tests to acquire the ability to launch nuclear strikes on the Americas. But his country’s economy has fallen sharply over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sanctions and his government’s mismanagement.
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