North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un personally oversaw the successful test of a hypersonic missile, state media reported on Wednesday, the second such launch by the nuclear-armed nation in less than a week.
Tuesday’s launch forced the US to briefly halt some flights on its west coast, the Federal Aviation Administration said, and was more advanced in nature than the test last week of a hypersonic missile according to South Korean military chiefs.
Tuesday’s missile carrying a “hypersonic gliding vehicle” hit “the set target in waters 1,000km off,” the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
Photographs posted on the website of Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ party, showed Kim wearing a long black leather coat and using binoculars to watch the missile from his mobile viewing platform.
“The superior manoeuvrability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more strikingly verified through the final test-fire,” the KCNA report said.
Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said: “Kim Jong-un’s attendance at the missile test suggests that the level of completion of the hypersonic missile has reached a satisfactory level.”
Other images in Rodong Sinmun showed the missile blasting off from land at dawn in a blaze of fire and smoke, and Kim discussing charts with uniformed officials.
It is the third reported North Korean test of a hypersonic gliding missile to date, following one in September 2021 and one last week, as the country looks to add the sophisticated weapon to its arsenal.
South Korea’s military said the Tuesday launch had reached hypersonic speeds and showed clear signs of “progress” from last week’s test.
The KCNA report said that the hypersonic glide vehicle “made glide jump flight from 600km area before making a 240km corkscrew.”
Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of Mach 5 and higher and can manoeuvre mid-flight, making them harder to track and intercept.
Russia, the United States and China have all said they have successfully tested hypersonic glide vehicles, with Russia generally seen as the world leader in the technology so far.
In the decade since Kim took power, North Korea has seen rapid advances in its military technology at the cost of international sanctions. Hypersonic missiles were listed among the “top priority” tasks for strategic weapons in its five-year plan, and it announced its first test – of the Hwasong-8 – in September last year.
The Tuesday 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 as North Korea has refused to respond to US appeals for talks.
At a key meeting of North Korea’s ruling party last month, Kim vowed to continue building up the country’s defence capabilities, without mentioning the United States.
Dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang remains stalled and the country is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
The impoverished nation has also been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has hammered its economy.