North Korean state media described Tuesday’s test as the final test of a new hypersonic missile that can jump corkscrew and glide
A day earlier, South Korean and Japanese officials detected a single ballistic-missile launch. His initial assessment estimated a shorter flight distance. Neither weapon is characterized as a hypersonic missile – a complex technology that blends ultrafast speed and maneuverability.
North Korea regards its hypersonic missile as the most strategically important of the five urgent tasks outlined in the weapons-development policy outlined by Kim in early 2021. Including Tuesday’s launch, Pyongyang says it has conducted three hypersonic tests since September.
According to state-media reports, the weapon roared “to fly into the sky, shining the dwindling sky and leaving behind a pillar of fire under Kim Jong Un’s supervision”. He praised military scientists. He posed for photographs with top officials. And he directed to strengthen the country’s “strategic military strength both in quality and quantity”, the report read.
Mr Kim, whose star power was long customary at major weapons tests, has skipped such in-person visits since March 2020. It’s partly on domestic optics to make it appear more attuned to the north’s fluttering economy, Pyongyang watchers say.
“Where the supreme leader really shows is where his attention lies,” said Ken Goes, North Korea’s leadership expert at CNA, a Virginia-based non-profit think tank.
But even the third-generation North Korean dictator has made a habit of showing off weapons systems only when they are complete. In recent years, the Kim regime has increasingly advanced its weapons to modernize weapons that can be used closer to home – and has halted testing of nuclear or long-range missiles that could attack the US. They are in the first stage of weapon development.
Tuesday’s test, however, was the final technical validation for the country’s hypersonic missile, according to state media reports, though there was no mention of deployment. Weapons experts say North Korea’s hypersonic technology is in its early stages.
“It seems that the North Koreans intend to show some confidence in their missile capabilities,” said Professor Kim Jina of South Korea’s Hankook University of Foreign Studies.
Weapons experts say it is challenging to verify maneuvering claims for Pyongyang’s hypersonic technology, because lateral movement over bodies of water can be difficult to see with satellite imagery. Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound. They fly closer to Earth than ballistic missiles and do not follow a simple trajectory, making them harder to detect on radar.
South Korea, Japan and others suspect North Korea’s claimed hypersonic capabilities may have been another impetus for Mr. Kim’s appearance, given that the elite in Pyongyang would have been aware of the outside assessment, said Michael Madden, a non-resident fellow at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.
“Kim Jong Un went on trial for providing his support for this weapons program and for implicating it with his political reputation,” Mr. Madden said.
The current leader’s father, Kim Jong Il, took part in nearly every weapon launch during his nearly 17-year reign, betting his legacy on the country’s military progress. After taking power a decade ago, Kim Jong Un tried to balance both defense and economy. But before his first meeting with then-President Donald Trump at the 2018 Singapore summit, Mr. Kim announced the completion of his nuclear programme.
Then he focused on the livelihood of his people. He stopped going to many places connected with the army. Instead, he visited farms and remote factories.
Mr Kim’s projected economic transformation has stalled, as nuclear talks that could lead to sanctions relief remain stalemate with the US, the pandemic closed borders, cutting off vital trade with neighboring China. Mr Kim has warned of food shortages.
This turn of events makes it politically risky for Mr Kim to oversee weapons launches, said Yongho Kim, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, which focuses on North Korean foreign policy.
“His presence could give the impression that Kim Jong Un is still making nuclear progress in the midst of economic hardship,” Prof. Kim said.
North Korea has conducted more than two dozen weapons or engine tests since an abrupt breakdown in talks at the 2019 nuclear summit in Vietnam. Weapons experts say the weapons Pyongyang has demonstrated—from train-launched missiles to submarine-launched technology—have generally demonstrated high precision, introduced new launchers and a variety of motors. technology that allows for rapid deployment, say weapons experts.
Marcus Schiller, a rocket scientist at ST Analytics, said the Kim regime’s shift toward conventional weapons needed to fight or prevent war focuses on more realistic military needs, as long-range missiles are needed for targets. Research and consulting firm in Munich.
“North Korea is a regional actor, not a global actor,” Mr. Schiller said. “So they need regional weapons.”
Write Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]