North Korea test fired a “hypersonic missile” this week that successfully hit a target, state news agency KCNA reported on Thursday, as the country pursues new military capabilities amid stalled denuclearisation talks.
The launch on Wednesday was the first by North Korea since October and was detected by several militaries in the region, drawing criticism from governments in the United States, South Korea, and Japan.
North Korea first tested a hypersonic missile in September, joining a race headed by major military powers to deploy the advanced weapons system.
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 6,200 km per hour (3,850 mph).
“The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernizing strategic armed force of the state,” the KCNA report said.
In Wednesday’s test, the “hypersonic gliding warhead” detached from its rocket booster and manoeuvred 120 km (75 miles) laterally before it “precisely hit” a target 700 km (430 miles) away, KCNA reported.
The test also confirmed components such as flight control and its ability to operate in the winter, KCNA added.
The missile demonstrated its ability to combine “multi-step glide jump flight and strong lateral manoeuvring,” KCNA said.
More manoeuvrable missiles and warheads are likely aimed at being able to overcome missile defences like those wielded by South Korea and the United States, analysts have said.
“My impression is that the North Koreans have identified hypersonic gliders as a potentially useful qualitative means to cope with missile defence,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Photos of the missile used in Wednesday’s test suggest it is a different version than the one tested last year, and was likely first unveiled at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang in October, he added.
“They likely set up at least two separate development programs,” Panda said. “One of these was the Hwasong-8, which was tested in September. This missile, which shares a few features in common with the Hwasong-8, is another.”
The U.S. State Department said the test violated multiple U.N. Security Council Resolutions and poses a threat to North Korea’s neighbours and the international community.