Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said on Wednesday that its leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful flight test of a hypersonic missile he claims would significantly increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrence”.
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State media reports come a day after armies of the United States, South Korea and Japan said they had detected North Korea firing a suspected ballistic missile into its eastern seas.
Tuesday’s launch involved a hypersonic glide vehicle, which performed a “glide jump flight” and “corkscrew maneuver” before hitting a sea target 1,000 kilometers (621 mi) away after its release from the rocket booster, the Korean Central News Agency said. performed. Images released by the agency showed a missile with a pointed cone-shaped payload soaring into the sky, leaving a trail of orange flames and Kim accompanied by top officials including his sister Kim Yo Jong in a small Looking from the cabin.
The launch was North Korea’s second test of its alleged hypersonic missile in a week, a type of weapon it first tested in September, as Kim Jong Un denounced international sanctions, pandemic-related efforts to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities. A defiant push has continued. Difficulties and standoff diplomacy with the United States.
The North has been ramping up its test activity since last fall, showcasing various missiles and delivery systems that are explicitly designed to eliminate missile defense systems in the region. Experts say Kim is trying to put more pressure on rivals Washington and Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in the hope of getting relief from economic sanctions.
It was the first time since March 2020 that North Korean state media reported Kim’s presence in the missile test.
KCNA said Kim praised his military scientists and officials involved in developing the hypersonic missile system, which he described as the most important part of the new five-year plan announced in early 2021 to build up the north’s military power.
North described the new missile as part of its “strategic” warhead, meaning a system is being developed to deliver a nuclear warhead.
“The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more clearly verified through final test-fire,” KCNA said. It said Kim stressed the need for the country to “expand and further modernize the country’s strategic military muscle in both quality and quantity” and vowed further success in “significantly enhancing the country’s combat deterrence”.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds greater than Mach 5 or more than five times the speed of sound, can pose a significant challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. Such weapons were on the wish-list of sophisticated military assets that Kim unveiled last year with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
Experts say North Korea needs more successful and long-range tests that will take years to get a reliable hypersonic system.
“North Korea recognizes that hypersonic weapons are a game changer and provides an entry into the nuclear club at a time when the US, Russia and China are racing to build them,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Washington Center for a New American Security. ” ,
It said that the North’s recent progress in its missile program was “to secure the nuclear capability of a second attack, to make its missiles more modern and more survivable, to reassure the North Korean people of its military prowess, and to have a credible presence in the nuclear club.” Indicates the purpose of entering from.”
Watch: State Department Spokesperson Ned Price and Under Secretary Victoria Nuland at the news briefing
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington condemned the North’s latest launch, which violates several UN Security Council resolutions, and urged Pyongyang to engage in “sustained and genuine dialogue”.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch highlighted “the destabilizing effects of (North Korea’s) illegal weapons program” but did not pose an immediate threat to the US territory or its allies.
Minutes after Tuesday’s launch, airports across the western United States briefly halted flights without explanation. A spokesperson for San Diego International Airport sent questions to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA acknowledged the “ground stop” in a tweet, without giving any reason why it issued the order.
“Full operations resumed in less than 15 minutes,” the FAA said. “The FAA takes regular precautionary measures. We are reviewing the process around this ground stop as we do after all such events.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North Korean missile flew 700 kilometers (434 mi) at a maximum speed of about Mach 10 before landing in waters off the north’s east coast.
South Korea’s defense ministry on January 5 rejected North Korea’s earlier test, insisting that the North had exaggerated its capabilities after testing a conventional ballistic missile. After Tuesday’s launch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged that the North demonstrated a more advanced capability than its previous test.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi described the new missile as hypersonic and said the North’s efforts to advance its missile capabilities posed a serious threat to Japan. He said Japan would consider all options, including the possibility of advancing pre-emptive attack capabilities, to strengthen its defence.
Kim Jong Un enters the new year renewing his resolve to strengthen his military forces, even as the nation grapples with difficulties related to the pandemic, which has further strained its economy , which is crippled by US-led sanctions on its nuclear program.
The economic shock has left Kim with little to show for his diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which derailed after their second meeting in 2019 when the Americans criticized North Korea’s partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities. instead rejected demands for relief from major sanctions.
The Biden administration, whose policies have reflected a sweeping shift from America’s terrorism and so-called rogue states such as North Korea and Iran to confronting China, has said it will hold talks with North Korea at any time without preconditions. ready to start again.
But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of open-ended talks, saying the US should first withdraw its “hostile policy”, a term Pyongyang has said primarily of sanctions and joint US-South Korea military exercises. uses to describe.
AP writers John Gambrel in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this story.