North Korean Weapons Launch Showed Off Vital Piece of Kim Jong Un’s Ambitions

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The new hypersonic missile has a fuel system that makes deployment faster and more mobile

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Pyongyang’s state media reported that a North Korean weapons launch a day earlier was a new hypersonic missile with a fuel system that makes deployment faster and more mobile. Sharing a name with the country’s lineup of long-range weapons, the hypersonic missile was dubbed the “Hwaseong-8”. It was one of the five most urgent tasks demanded by the North’s new strategic weapons policy.

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Seoul’s military said in a Wednesday assessment that Pyongyang’s new weapon, however, appears to be an early stage of development, requiring considerable time before it is ready for deployment. It said the weapon could be detected and intercepted by South Korean and US military forces.

Hypersonic missiles can typically fly at a speed of one mile per second, traveling at about five times the speed of sound. The North’s hypersonic missile could be fired, state media reported as scientists had confirmed “navigational control” capabilities. Weapons experts say the missile appears to be designed to eventually become nuclear capable.

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If awarded, a North Korean hypersonic missile that can be maneuvered is harder to shoot down because it doesn’t follow a simple trajectory, said Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corp., Santa Monica, A think tank based in California.

“Thus a hypersonic missile for US missile defense stationed in Korea is very difficult, if not impossible, to intercept,” Mr. Bennett said.

After months of inaction, the Kim regime has tested three different weapons in recent weeks. Pyongyang has defended the activity as exercising its rights of national defence.

North Korea, battling the pandemic and food shortages, has put in a lot of effort this year in dealing with domestic affairs. This has sparked outreach by the Biden administration and South Korea.

But the increase in weapons testing reflects less of Pyongyang’s response to the foreign policy of Washington or Seoul, but rather follows Mr Kim’s promises for military progress, said Gordon Fleck, a Korea expert at the Perth USAAsia Center in Australia.

“I am less convinced than before that the North Korean stimulus cycle is the playbook,” Mr Fleck said. “It is only North Korea that is proceeding with its logical process of developing and testing weapons. They test because it’s part of their process.”

Nuclear talks between North Korea and the US remain deadlocked. Pyongyang has reiterated that there is no interest in diplomacy until Washington and Seoul abandon their “hostile policy” towards the poor country – a list that includes joint military exercises, economic sanctions and a US security ring in the Pacific. Is.

In recent days, the dictator’s sister Kim Yo Jong has suggested that if Seoul displays mutual respect and fairness, Pyongyang has some openness to revive inter-Korean relations. Jessica J. Lee, a Korea expert at Washington’s Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said South Korea could play a bigger role in starting nuclear disarmament talks, though only if Washington and Pyongyang are willing to take incremental steps to build confidence. based think tank.

In his January speech, Mr. Kim gave an unusually detailed description of military hardware under development, including a reference to “supersonic gliding flight warheads”. The North Korean leader also mentioned progress on a nuclear submarine and a multi-combat rocket. Most of the weapons were rolled during the January military parade.

North’s two other tests this month involved low-flying cruise missiles designed to evade defense radars, as well as short-range missiles that were launched from a train.

Mr Kim was not reported to have attended Tuesday’s launch. But a senior North Korean military official, Pak Jong Chon, praised the hypersonic missile’s strategic importance, state media reported. Mr Pak also referred to a planned change to the use of a fuel system that had been used in the past on some Soviet long-range missiles.

The method, known as amplification, involves the use of a sealed fuel tank built into the missile and filled at the factory, said Scott Lafoy, a ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons specialist at Exiger Federal Solutions, a risk management firm. . He said the technology could be adapted to long-range missiles of the north, saving significant hours of launch preparation.

Manually refueling the ICBMs would require either dozens of support trucks or burying the fuel tanks at pre-survey launch positions.

“These both increase the likelihood that adversary intelligence will detect the missile,” Mr Lafoy said, “reducing the likelihood that the missile will survive the early hours of a conflict.”

Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]

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