DPRK Claims Tuesday's Missile Test Was of a New Hypersonic Weapon Named Hwasong-8
21:17 GMT 28.09.2021 (Updated: 18:35 GMT 19.10.2022)
© Lockheed MartinArtist's conception of a hypersonic missile during its launch phase.
© Lockheed Martin
According to the state-owned Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the Korean People's Army (KPA) tested a new hypersonic glide vehicle for the first time on Tuesday. The test came just days after the US successfully fired its own hypersonic weapon for the first time.
"The development of the hypersonic missile, one of five top-priority tasks of the five-year plan facing the field of strategic weapon for the development of defense science and weapon system set forth at the 8th Congress of the Party, has been pushed forward according to a sequential, scientific and reliable development process," KCNA wrote on Wednesday.
The weapon has been named Hwasong-8 and was fired from Mupyong-ri in Jagang Province.
"In the first test-launch, national defense scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile in the active section, and also its technical specifications including the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead," the publication said, adding the scientists had also "confirmed the stability of the amplified missile fuel system and the actuators introduced for the first time."
The test was witnessed by Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK)
The Tuesday test, which flew eastward into the Sea of Japan, was detected by both Japan and South Korea. However, they estimated the "unidentified projectile" was likely a ballistic missile.
It would have been hard for them to tell the difference if they weren't looking for it. Technically, all ballistic missiles are hypersonic, as they must travel faster than Mach 5 to escape the Earth's gravity. However, a hypersonic glide vehicle would not follow a traditional ballistic trajectory, which is somewhat easy to detect and predict. Instead, after achieving tremendous speed thanks to the rocket, the glide vehicle would detach after a few minutes and glide unpowered toward its target. Existing hypersonic glide vehicles, such as those developed by Russia and China, are highly maneuverable and intended to avoid interception.
Hypersonic missiles are extremely hard to detect and shoot down, as existing ballistic missile detection satellites look for rocket engine heat and the glide vehicle has no engine. Russia claims its S-500 Prometheus air defense system can shoot down a hypersonic missile and the US intends to test whether its Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) can do so.
The United States condemns North Korea's recent missile launches that destabilize the region, a State Department spokesperson said in a statement obtained by Sputnik.
“We are aware of these reports. We are working to confirm the specific nature of the recent launch event and consulting closely with our allies," the spokesperson said.
"We take reports of any new capability seriously, and as we’ve said, we condemn any illicit missile launches, which are destabilizing to the region and to the international community," the statement added.
Since 2018, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has tested several short-range ballistic missiles that are both road-mobile and follow depressed trajectories the KPA has boasted are able to avoid US air defense systems in South Korea, such as the Patriot air defense system and Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system. Last month, they also unveiled a new long-range cruise missile. These weapons are not governed by existing arms treaties or banned by United Nations mandate.
In early August, after South Korea proceeded with its massive joint drills with US forces, which rehearse attacks on the DPRK, Kim Yo Jong, deputy director of the WPK's Publicity and Information Department, said the socialist state would "strengthen our national defense and strong preemptive capabilities to swiftly respond to any military act."
Aside from the DPRK, the only nations to successfully develop hypersonic weapons have been Russia, China, and the United States, meaning the small socialist state will have joined yet another elite club.
While Russia and China both have multiple such weapons in service, the US has so far struggled to perfect a hypersonic missile. Both attempted test-firings of Lockheed Martin's AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) have failed; however, on Monday the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced it had successfully launched its competitor weapon for the first time, the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). The weapon uses an experimental scramjet engine, and would function like a cruise missile, rather than launching an unpowered glide vehicle.