North Korea says it test-fired new hypersonic missile

People watching a television news broadcast showing file footage of a North Korean missile test in Seoul on Sept 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - The missile North Korea fired off its east coast on Tuesday (Sept 28) was a newly developed hypersonic missile, state news media KCNA reported on Wednesday, the latest in a series of new weapons tested by the reclusive state.

North Korea fired the missile towards the sea off its east coast, South Korea's military said, as Pyongyang called on the United States and South Korea to scrap their "double standards" on weapons programmes to restart diplomatic talks.

The development of the weapon system increases North Korea's defence capabilities, KCNA said, describing the hypersonic missile as a "strategic weapon".

Unlike ballistic missiles that fly into outer space before returning on steep trajectories, hypersonic weapons fly towards targets at lower altitudes and can achieve more than five times the speed of sound - or about 6,200km per hour.

The North's hypersonic missile is at an early stage of development judged by detected velocity and other data, and would take a "considerable period of time" until it could be deployed in combat, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday.

The test could mean the North is joining an accelerating race to deploy the weapon now involving the US, Russia and China.

North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems amid an impasse over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for US sanctions relief.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not inspect the launch, according to the report.

"In the first test-launch, national defence scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile in the active section," the report said.

It said the missile, called Hwasong-8, performed to its technical specifications "including the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead".

The Hwasong series missiles use liquid propellant engines, according to US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Ankit Panda.

"This is the first test of a liquid propellant missile in North Korea since November 2017," he said in a post on Twitter.

Hypersonic weapons are considered the next generation of arms that aim to rob adversaries of reaction time and traditional defeat mechanisms.

The US on Monday said it has tested an air-breathing hypersonic weapon, marking the first successful test of the class of weapon since 2013.

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In July, Russia successfully tested a Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile, a weapon President Vladimir Putin has touted as part of a new generation of missile systems without equal in the world.

Korea Aerospace University missile specialist Chang Young-keun said the North's test of the hypersonic gliding vehicle (HGV) was likely a failure, given the flight was clocked at Mach 2.5, citing reported assessment by South Korean military intelligence.

"The North's HGV technology is not comparable to those of the US, Russia or China and for now seems to aim for short-range that can target South Korea or Japan," Professor Chang said.

North Korea last week said it was willing to consider another summit with the South if mutual respect between the neighbours can be assured, following South Korean President Moon Jae-in's call for a declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The denuclearisation negotiations, initiated between former US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, have stalled since 2019.

North Korea and South Korea both test-fired ballistic missiles on Sept 15, the latest volley in an arms race in which both nations have developed increasingly sophisticated weapons while efforts prove fruitless to get talks going on defusing tensions.

On Tuesday, North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, the isolated state's rubber-stamp Parliament, met to discuss national economic policy, youth education, and other issues, state media reported in a separate dispatch.

The North's Parliament rarely meets and usually serves to approve decisions on issues such as governing structures and budgets that have been created by the state's powerful Workers' Party, members of which form the vast majority of the assembly.

North Korea has not reported any confirmed Covid-19 cases, but has imposed crippling border closings, banned most international travel and severely restricted movement inside the country, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.

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