North Korea said Wednesday that it successfully launched a new hypersonic missile that it hinted was being developed for nuclear bombs, as it continues to strengthen its military capabilities and exert pressure on Washington and Seoul over long-stalled nuclear-weapons talks.
The early Tuesday missile test was North Korea’s third this month, and it came just days after North Korea’s UN envoy accused the US of hostility and demanded that the Biden administration halt joint military exercises with South Korea and the deployment of strategic weapons in the region permanently.
A rocket with a finned, cone-shaped payload soars into the air amid vivid orange flames, according to a photo issued by North Korean state media. According to the official Korean Central News Agency, the missile met major technical requirements during its initial flight test, including launch stability, maneuverability, and flight characteristics of the “detached hypersonic gliding warhead.”
The missile is in an early stage of development, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and North Korea will require “some time” to deploy it operationally.
The North’s claim came a day after the troops of South Korea and Japan stated they had seen North Korea fire a missile into its eastern sea. The launch, according to the US Indo-Pacific Command, underscored “the disruptive consequences of (North Korea’s) illegal weapons program.”
According to KCNA, the North’s rubber-stamp parliament met on Tuesday to address internal concerns like economic policies and youth education, and that the talks would continue. Some analysts believe the North may use the meeting to break the impasse on nuclear diplomacy, but the official media story makes no mention of any remarks directed at Washington or Seoul.
Leader Kim Jong Un listed hypersonic glide vehicles among a wish list of sophisticated military capabilities at a governing party conference in January. Hypersonic glide vehicles are launched from a rocket before gliding into a target. The new missile was termed by KCNA as a “strategic” addition to the country’s armory, meaning that it is being designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
The test also proved the missile’s fuel capsule’s stability, indicating a technique to replenish liquid propellant ahead of time and keep it launch-ready for years, according to the report. A North Korean official further stated that the system would be expanded to include all of the country’s liquid-fuel missiles.
Because liquid-fuel missiles must be fueled separately and transported to launch positions using trucks that can be observed by enemy satellites or other military assets, they are more vulnerable than solid-fuel missiles.
North Korea is attempting to improve the mobility of these weapons, according to Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.
Last week, North Korea made offers to normalize relations with South Korea on certain terms, resuming its pattern of combining weapons demonstrations with peace overtures to win concessions from the outside world.
Since February 2019, negotiations over its nuclear program have been deadlocked. While maintaining on its right to nuclear weapons, North Korea has requested the easing of US-led sanctions. The sanctions will remain in place until the North makes concrete moves toward disarmament, according to US officials.
In recent political addresses, Kim Jong Un has pledged to strengthen his nuclear program as a deterrent to the United States. His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offer to resume talks without preconditions, claiming that Washington must first abandon its “hostile policy,” a term North Korea uses to refer to sanctions and joint military drills between the US and South Korea, which the North views as invasion rehearsals.
Last week, Kim’s powerful sister wrote to Seoul twice, stating her country was willing to resume discussions and take measures toward reconciliation if certain criteria were satisfied.
According to analysts, North Korea is taking advantage of the South’s desire for inter-Korean interaction to put pressure on Seoul to obtain concessions from Washington on Kim’s behalf as he renews his quest to leverage his nuclear weapons for desperately needed economic and security benefits.
North Korea’s weapons demonstrations could also be intended at bolstering domestic unity as Kim approaches a decade in power, with widespread border closures wreaking havoc on an economy already devastated by sanctions and decades of mismanagement.
Experts predict that the North will continue to test in the coming months as it ramps up its pressure campaign, at least until China begins to appeal for calm ahead of the Beijing Olympics in early next year.