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North Korea launches second hypersonic missile

Missile North Korea
In less than two weeks, nuclear-armed North Korea has conducted three other missile tests. Photo: AAP
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North Korea has fired a hypersonic ballistic missile that successfully hit a target, state news agency KCNA reports, its second such test 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 across 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 6200km/h.

“The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernising 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 laterally before it “precisely hit” a target 700 km away, KCNA reported.

The test also confirmed components such as flight control and its ability to operate in the winter, KCNA said, while the missile demonstrated its ability to combine “multi-step glide jump flight and strong lateral manoeuvring”.

While it has not tested nuclear bombs or long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017, in recent years North Korea has developed and launched a range of more manoeuvrable missiles and warheads probably 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 US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Hypersonic weapons are considered the next generation of arms that aim to rob adversaries of reaction time and traditional defeat mechanisms.

Photos of the missile used in Wednesday’s test show what analysts said is a liquid-fuelled ballistic missile with a conical-shaped Manoeuvrable Re-entry Vehicle (MaRV) blasting off from a wheeled launch vehicle in a cloud of flame and smoke.

It is a different version than the weapon tested last year, and was first unveiled at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang in October, Mr Panda said.

“They likely set up at least two separate development programs,” he 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.”

After this week’s launch was detected on Wednesday, the US State Department said it violated multiple UN Security Council Resolutions and poses a threat to North Korea’s neighbours and the international community.

The department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on North Korea’s report it had tested a hypersonic weapon.

Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal have been stalled since a series of summits between leader Kim Jong-un and then-US President Donald Trump broke down with no agreement.

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.

– AAP