North Korea said yesterday it had launched a “hypersonic” missile for the first time in the latest advance in its expanding weapons programme .
Hypersonic missile systems are some of the latest warfare technology being developed by military powers such as China, Russia and the United States.
The weapons fly faster and at lower altitudes than traditional ballistic missiles, allowing them to manoeuvre more flexibly.
They are being developed to eventually carry nuclear warheads.
On Tuesday, North Korea fired a short-range missile eastward into the sea, but details about the launch were scarce.
Pyongyang yesterday re- leased a photo and some information about the new hypersonic missile, the Hwasong-8, through state media.
It was among the top five priorities North Korea announced earlier this year as part of its five-year military development programme.
While there is a lot of hype around these new systems, it is unclear whether they are a game-changer in the nuclear arms race, said Shannon Bugos, co-author of a new report on hypersonic weapons by the Arms Control Association.
She warned against knee-jerk reactions that would overstate the capacity of the missile.
“We don’t know a lot yet about the North Korean technology, but on the whole, there is evidence to suggest that hypersonic weapons aren’t necessarily a military revolution, but rather an evolutionary development that will not fundamentally change the nature of conflict,” she added.
“One flight test is far from enough to successfully dev- elop this kind of technology,” said Vann Van Diepen, a former weapons analyst for the US National Intelligence Programme.
“For them, lauding the technical achievement this represents is a big part of what’s going on – at least at this stage.”
Another development tucked into North Korea’s statement is an announcement that Pyongyang has introduced “ampoules”, or canisters of liquid fuel prepared in factories and sent to military units for use in missiles, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Programme at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California.
That suggests North Korea is working to reduce the time needed to launch missiles in case of an attack.
“It means they’re much faster to launch,” Mr Lewis said. “That’s a big deal.”
Sung Kim, the US special envoy for North Korea, said the latest launch was “destabilising” and posed a regional threat, but Washington would continue diplomatic efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
“We are waiting to hear back from Pyongyang. We have made a number of approaches and proposed dialogues on a wide range of topics,” he told a virtual forum from Jakarta, where he serves as US ambassador to Indonesia.
Unlike ballistic missiles, which fly into outer space before returning on steep trajectories, hypersonic weapons fly toward targets at lower altitudes and can achieve more than five times the speed of sound – or about 6,200kmh.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not inspect the launch, according to the report. (© Washington Post)
© Washington Post