North Korea says it tested solid-fuel missile tipped with hypersonic weapon

Seoul, South Korea –

North Korea said Monday it has flight-tested a new intermediate-range solid-fuel missile tipped with a hypersonic warhead as it seeks more powerful, harder-to-detect weapons designed to strike remote U.S. targets in the region.

The North Korean state media report came a day after the South Korean and Japanese militaries detected the launch from a site near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, in the North’s first ballistic test in 2024.

The launch came two months after North Korea said it had successfully tested engines for a new intermediate-range solid-fuel missile, reflecting a push to advance its line of weapons aimed at U.S. military bases in Guam and Japan.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday’s launch was aimed at verifying the reliability of the missile’s solid-fuel engines and the maneuverable flight capabilities of the hypersonic warhead. He described the test as a success.

KCNA did not mention whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was present at the test, which it said was part of the country’s regular weapons development activities.

“The test by fire never affected the security of any neighboring country and had nothing to do with the regional situation,” KCNA said.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. North Korea’s existing intermediate-range missiles, including the Hwasong-12, which could reach the US territory of Guam in the Pacific, are powered by liquid-fuel engines, which need to be fueled before launch and cannot remain fed for long periods of time. .

Missiles with built-in solid propellants can be prepared to launch faster and are easier to move and conceal, theoretically making it more difficult for adversaries to detect and anticipate the launch.

Since 2021, North Korea has also been testing hypersonic weapons, which are designed to fly at speeds exceeding Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. If perfected, these systems could pose a challenge to regional missile defense systems due to their speed and maneuverability.

Hypersonic weapons were part of a wish list of sophisticated military assets that Kim unveiled in 2021, along with multiple warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

Last year, North Korea tested a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time, adding to its arsenal of weapons aimed at the continental United States, and also launched its first military reconnaissance satellite in November.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years after Kim intensified his weapons demonstrations in recent months. The United States and its allies Seoul and Tokyo responded by strengthening their combined military exercises and sharpening their nuclear deterrence strategies.

There are also concerns about alleged arms cooperation between North Korea and Russia as they line up for separate and escalating confrontations with Washington. In its latest sign of diplomacy, a North Korean delegation led by Kim’s Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui left Pyongyang on Sunday to visit Russia at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, KCNA said. The report does not specify what will be discussed.

The US and South Korean governments have claimed that North Korea has been providing Russia with weapons supplies, including artillery and missiles, to help prolong its invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration said it has evidence that missiles provided by North Korea to Russia had been used in the Ukraine war. In a joint statement last week, the United States, South Korea and their partners said the missile transfer supports Russia’s war of aggression and provides North Korea with valuable technical and military expertise.

Some experts say the North could try to further increase pressure in an election year on South Korea and the United States.

Earlier this month, North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells near the disputed western maritime border with South Korea, prompting the South to conduct similar firing exercises in the area. Kim has also issued verbal threats, using a political conference last week to define South Korea as the North’s “main enemy” and threatening to annihilate it if provoked.

Experts say Kim probably wants South Korean liberals to win a crucial parliamentary election in April to deal a blow to conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has taken a hard line toward the North. They say Kim might also want former US President Donald Trump to be re-elected, possibly thinking it would give him an easier chance to win US concessions on the nuclear standoff.

Trump met with Kim three times during his tenure, but their diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of their second meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender. its nuclear capabilities.

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