North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un personally oversaw the successful test of a hypersonic missile, state media reported Wednesday, the second such launch by the nuclear-armed country in less than a week.
Tuesday’s launch forced the US to temporarily suspend some flights on the west coast, the Federal Aviation Administration said, and was more sophisticated in nature than last week’s test of a hypersonic missile, according to South Korean military leaders.
Tuesday’s missile with a “hysonic gliding vehicle” struck “its designated target in waters 1,000 km away,” the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The website of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party, shows Kim wearing a long black leather jacket and using binoculars to view the rocket from his mobile viewing platform.
“The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic sliding vehicle was more conspicuously verified by the latest test fire,” according to the KCNA report.
Lim Eul-chul, professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said: “Kim Jong-un’s presence at the missile test suggests that the level of completion of the hypersonic missile has reached a satisfactory level.”
Other footage in Rodong Sinmun showed the rocket blasting off the country at dawn in a burst of fire and smoke, and Kim discussed cards with uniformed officials.
It is North Korean’s third reported test to date of a hypersonic gliding missile, following one in September 2021 and one last week as the country strives to add the advanced weapon to its arsenal.
The South Korean military said Tuesday’s launch had reached hypersonic speeds and showed clear signs of “progress” from last week’s test.
The KCNA report said the hypersonic glider “made a gliding jump of an area 600 km before making a 150-mile corkscrew.”
Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of Mach 5 and above and can maneuver in flight, making them harder to track and intercept.
Russia, the United States and China have all said they have successfully tested hypersonic sliding vehicles, with Russia to date widely regarded as the world leader in technology.
In the decade since Kim came to power, North Korea has seen rapid advances in its military technology at the cost of international sanctions. Hypersonic missiles were listed in the five-year plan as one of the “top priority” tasks for strategic weapons, and in September last year it announced its first test – of the Hwasong-8.
Tuesday’s test came as the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss Pyongyang’s weapons programs. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the launch “violates multiple UN Security Council resolutions”.
The hypersonic tests come after North Korea refused to respond to US calls for talks.
At a key meeting of North Korea’s ruling party last month, Kim pledged to continue building the country’s defense capabilities, without mentioning the United States.
The dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang is still stalled and the country is under multiple series of international sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The impoverished nation has also faced a rigid self-imposed coronavirus lockdown that has hammered its economy.