Kim Jong supervises hypersonic missile test, vows N-arsenal expansion

Seoul: North Korea announced that it had conducted a test of a new hypersonic intermediate-range missile fueled by solid propellants. This development underscores the nation’s ongoing efforts to bolster its nuclear and missile capabilities amidst escalating tensions with neighboring countries and the United States.

North Korean state media’s announcement followed a day after both the South Korean and Japanese militaries reported detecting the North’s launch of the missile from an inland region near its capital, directed towards the eastern sea.

According to North Korean state media, the test was overseen by the authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, who characterized the missile – designated Hwasong-16B – as a crucial component of his nuclear deterrent strategy. He pledged to strengthen this arsenal as a response to perceived threats from “enemies,” namely the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, Kim asserted that North Korea has successfully developed nuclear-capable solid-fuel systems for “all tactical, operational, and strategic missiles with varying ranges.”

In recent years, North Korea has prioritized the development of weapons equipped with solid propellants. Since 2021, it has been conducting tests on hypersonic weapons intended to surpass five times the speed of sound. If successfully developed, these systems could present a significant challenge to regional missile defense systems due to their high speed and maneuverability. However, it remains uncertain whether North Korea’s hypersonic vehicles consistently achieved the desired speed exceeding Mach 5 during tests conducted in 2021 and 2022.

According to the KCNA, during this week’s test, the missile’s hypersonic glide warhead achieved a peak altitude of 101 kilometers (62 miles) after being detached from the launch rocket. It then traveled approximately 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), executing various flight maneuvers before ultimately landing in the waters situated between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

While the South Korean and Japanese militaries initially estimated the missile’s flight distance at approximately 600 kilometers (372 miles), Japan’s Defense Ministry later confirmed a similar peak altitude as reported by North Korea.

In January, North Korea conducted a test of what it claimed to be a hypersonic Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), following previous flight tests of liquid-fueled IRBMs. Analysts suggest that if these weapons are perfected, they could potentially reach distant US targets in the Pacific, such as the military stronghold of Guam. Tensions in the region have heightened since 2022, as Kim Jong Un has exploited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a diversion to expedite the testing of missiles and other weaponry.

In response, the United States and South Korea have expanded their joint training exercises and trilateral drills, which now include Japan. They have also intensified their deterrence strategies, leveraging strategic US assets to enhance readiness and counter potential threats posed by North Korea.

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