The rogue regime fired a “hypersonic missile” on Wednesday that successfully hit a target, according to reports. It is the second test of its kind and comes ahead of Kim’s birthday on January 8. It has put US officials on red alert, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken stating Washington is taking the “new capability seriously,” while also condemning the move.
The launch was the first by North Korea since October and was detected by several militaries in the region, including the US.
It is now believed to be a “hypersonic” rocket, putting Pyongyang on level peggings with the likes of Russia and China who have recently tested similar technology.
Hypersonic weapons usually fly towards targets at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles and can achieve more than five times the speed of sound – or about 3,850mph.
Despite their name, analysts say the main feature of hypersonic weapons is not speed – which can sometimes be matched or exceeded by traditional ballistic missile warheads – but their manoeuvrability.
In their test, North Korea demonstrated its ability to combine “multi-step glide jump flight and strong lateral manoeuvring,” according to reports.
While it has not tested nuclear bombs or long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the advancement could suggest North Korea is making further strides in its abilities.
Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “My impression is that the North Koreans have identified hypersonic gliders as a potentially useful qualitative means to cope with missile defence.”
Photos of the missile used in Wednesday’s test show what analysts said is a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a conical-shaped Manoeuvrable Reentry Vehicle (MaRV) blasting off from a wheeled launch vehicle in a cloud of flame and smoke.
It is believed to be different from the previous one used.
In a call with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Mr Blinkencondemned the North Korea missile launch and discussed cooperation to achieve complete denuclearisation.
A State Department spokesperson said later: “We take any new capability seriously, and as we’ve said, we condemn (North Korea’s) continued testing of ballistic missiles, which are destabilising to the region and to the international community.”
US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is open to talking to North Korea, but Pyongyang has said American overtures are empty rhetoric without more substantive changes to “hostile policies” such as military drills and sanctions.
The launch also came hours before South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a rail line he hopes will eventually connect the divided Korean peninsula.