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North Korea says it successfully test-fired ‘hypersonic missile’

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North Korea successfully tested a “hypersonic missile” on Wednesday, the first weapon test of the year, according to the state news agency KCNA.

The South Korean military, on the other hand, claimed that the North had launched a ballistic missile.

The missile “precisely hit” a target 700 kilometers away while demonstrating its “multi-step glide jump flight and strong lateral manoeuvring” capabilities.

The weapon, which has a new fuel transport system, has also proven to be successful in its ability to operate in freezing winter temperatures, according to the report.

A view of what state news agency KCNA reports is the test firing of a hypersonic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea. | via REUTERS

North Korea’s launch on Wednesday was its first since October, when it tested a newly developed submarine-launched ballistic missile in violation of US Security Council resolutions prohibiting the country from testing ballistic or nuclear devices.

The latest test was detected by several militaries in the region, prompting condemnation from governments in neighboring South Korea and Japan, as well as the United States, amid stalled denuclearization talks.

It was also the second test of hypersonic missiles, which can fly at lower altitudes for longer periods of time and evade detection by air defense systems than ballistic missiles.

“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.

On Wednesday, Japan’s coast guards and South Korea’s military detected the test, which Pyongyang confirmed on Thursday.

Following the news of the launch, Japan’s NHK TV reported that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was prompted to establish a crisis response center under his office.

“It’s truly regrettable that North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles since last year,” Mr Kishida of Japan said on Wednesday. “The Japanese government will strengthen warning and surveillance more than ever.”

According to analysts, the missile appears to be a new liquid-fueled manoeuvrable reentry vehicle (MARV) ballistic missile that was first unveiled in October at a defense exhibition in Pyongyang.

The missile appears to be a different version than the weapon tested last year, according to Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program.

“My impression is that the North Koreans have identified hypersonic gliders as a potentially useful qualitative means to cope with missile defence,” he added.

Mr Panda added that the missile used in Wednesday’s test has some similarities to the Hwasong-8, North Korea’s first “hypersonic missile,” which was tested in September 2021.

North Korea has not tested nuclear weapons or long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of directly threatening continents such as the United States since testing three ICBMs in 2017.

However, since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s diplomacy with former President Donald Trump collapsed in 2017, the country has developed a range of more maneuverable missiles and warheads capable of countering missile defenses used by South Korea and the United States.

The test came just days after Mr Kim pledged in his New Year’s address to strengthen the North’s military power and food productivity in the face of an increasingly volatile military environment on the Korean peninsula.

The US State Department said in a statement that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned North Korea’s missile launch during a phone call with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Thursday.

“We take any new capability seriously, and as we’ve said, we condemn (North Korea‘s) continued testing of ballistic missiles, which are destabilising to the region and to the international community,” a State Department spokesperson said later.

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