North Korea has successfully tested a hypersonic missile on January 5. The test was reported by the state news agency KCNA. According to KCNA, the missile manoeuvred and hit a target at 700 km. Hypersonic missiles can reach targets at low altitudes and speeds five times the speed of sound.
The test was not a surprise, and the militaries from several countries tracked the missile launch.
The DPRK conducted the first test of a hypersonic Missile in September 2021. Experts had named this missile Hwasong-8. There is no official acknowledgement from North Korea.
The KCNA report indicates that the latest test is of particular importance since it contributes to the modernization of the DPRK’s strategic weapons.
Type and Missile Characteristics
South Korean agency Renhap quoted the North Korean sources saying that the shell had “hit the target precisely.” According to the agency, the projectile flew up 120 km.
The local North Korean press claimed that the “hypersonic gliding warhead” detached from its rocket booster and manoeuvred 120 km to the side and then “accurately hit” the target at a distance of 700 km.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan said the unidentified projectile was launched at 08:10 local time from land towards the Sea of Japan.
It has been officially suggested that it was a ballistic missile. As noted by the Yonhap news agency, rumours circulated at an unofficial level that it was a short-range hypersonic missile. It is possible that this was a re-launch of the DPRK’s hypersonic missile “Hwaseong-8”, as per the officials.
Japan disputes the claims, a new type of missile
Japan believes that the DPRK tested a new type of ballistic missile on January 5; it has never been launched before. This was told to reporters on Thursday by Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.
“According to the information we have, North Korea launched one ballistic missile yesterday. It was launched on a low trajectory, and its flight altitude did not exceed 50 km. We believe that this is a new ballistic missile that North Korea has never launched before.” he said.
The Hwaseong-8 missile was tested “to ascertain the stability of the engine and the fuel ampoule that had been introduced for the first time.” The test aimed to reduce the preparation time for launch and make it almost as fast as a solid-fuel missile, which means that a rocket is loaded with fuel before launch and kept refuelled. It appears that the technology of storing and loading liquid fuel into a rocket and storing it in a “container” state is rapidly advancing in North Korea. This means that Hwaseong-8 missiles can be launched as quickly as solid-propellant missiles.
A news agency TsTAK said the launch demonstrated the controllability and stability of the manoeuvrability of the detachable warhead and its high gliding characteristics.
The test immediately drew criticism from the governments of the United States, South Korea and Japan.
On the same day, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said there was no damage to Japanese ships and aircraft from the DPRK’s launch of the alleged ballistic missile. Kishi noted that the ministry is currently continuing to analyze data on the projectile launch. He also said that the rocket, according to preliminary calculations, fell outside the exclusive economic zone of Japan.
Surge in tests
North Korea has not conducted a nuclear test or long-range ballistic missile launch since 2017. It has created and tested other types of missiles potentially capable of penetrating the US and South Korean missile defense systems in recent years.
The US State Department said the latest tests violate several UN Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to North Korea’s neighbours and the international community.
Hypersonic weapons from other nations
Russia has already deployed its Avangard and Dagger hypersonic missiles against the US missile defense system. Last year, China also began deploying a new Dongfeng 17 ballistic missile capable of carrying hypersonic weapons.