North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un called for strengthening the country’s strategic military forces as he observed the test of a hypersonic missile, state media said on Wednesday, officially participating in a missile launch for the first time in almost two years.
On Tuesday, the authorities of South Korea and Japan unveiled the alleged launch, which aroused condemnation from authorities around the world and prompted an expression of concern from the UN Secretary-General.
The second test of a “hypersonic missile” in less than a week underlined Kim’s New Year’s promise to strengthen the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the United States have stalled.
After seeing the test, Kim urged military researchers to “further accelerate efforts to steadily build the country’s strategic military muscle in both quality and quantity and further modernize the army,” the KCNA news agency reported.
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It was the first time since March 2020 that Kim officially participated in a missile test.
“His presence here would draw special attention to this program,” Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on Twitter.
Unlike some other recent tests, the ruling party’s newspaper Rodong Sinmun published pictures of Kim watching the launch on its front page.
“While Kim has probably unofficially participated in other tests in the meantime, this appearance and its side-1 function on Rodong Sinmun is important,” said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which oversees North Korea. “That means Kim is not worried about being personally associated with (testing) major new technology. And does not care how the United States views this.”
UN Security Council resolutions ban all North Korean ballistic missiles and nuclear tests and have imposed sanctions on the programs.
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Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to surrender or limit its arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles have stalled, with Pyongyang saying it is open to diplomacy, but only if the United States and its allies stop “hostile policies” such as sanctions or military exercises.
US Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland called the launches dangerous and destabilizing.
“It’s obviously leading us in the wrong direction,” she said at a regular briefing in Washington on Tuesday. “As you know, since this administration came in, the United States has been open to dialogue with North Korea, that we are open to talking about COVID and humanitarian aid, and instead they are firing missiles.”
The European Union on Tuesday condemned the latest North Korean missile launch as a “threat to international peace and security” and called on Pyongyang to resume diplomacy.
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Despite their name, analysts say the main feature of hypersonic weapons is not speed – which can sometimes be matched or exceeded by traditional ballistic missile warheads – but their maneuverability, making them an acute threat to missile defense systems.
Images released by state media appeared to show the same type of missile and warhead that was first tested last week, analysts said.
“The test fire was aimed at the final verification of overall technical specifications for the developed hypersonic weapon system,” the KCNA reported.
North Korea’s missile test was not hypersonic, South Korea says
Following the release of the rocket launcher, a hypersonic glider performed a 600 km (375 mile) “glide jump flight” and then 240 km of “corkscrew maneuvering” before hitting a target at sea 1,000 km away, the report said.
South Korean officials had questioned the missile’s capabilities after the first test last week, saying it did not appear to demonstrate the range and maneuverability claimed in a state media report and that it contained a maneuverable warhead rather than an actual glider. .
On Tuesday, however, South Korea said the second test appeared to show improved performance, with the missile reaching top speeds up to 10 times the speed of sound (12,348 km per hour / 7,673 miles per hour), although they did not comment on its maneuverability.
“The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glider was more strikingly verified through the final test fire,” the KCNA said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin)