(2nd LD) N. Korea claims successful launch of new IRBM tipped with hypersonic warhead

Date: 2024-04-03T14:56:36+09:00

Location: en.yna.co.kr

(ATTN: ADDS more remarks in paras 10-16, byline)
By Kim Soo-yeon and Chae Yun-hwan

SEOUL, April 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Wednesday it has successfully test-fired a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) tipped with a hypersonic warhead, saying that all missiles the country has developed are now solid-fuel and nuclear capable with warhead control capability.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided the testing of the Hwasongpho-16B Tuesday, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The South Korean military said Tuesday it detected the firing of an IRBM from the Pyongyang region and the missile flew about 600 kilometers before falling into the East Sea.

The latest launch came about three months after North Korea test-fired an intermediate-range hypersonic missile on Jan. 14. Last month, the North conducted a ground jet test of a solid-fuel engine for a new IRBM loaded with a hypersonic warhead.

Kim described the Hwasong-16 missile as a "powerful, strategic offensive weapon."

The North's leader said the country has perfected the project for "putting all the tactical, operational and strategic missiles with various ranges on solid-fueled, warhead-controlled and nuclear warhead-carrying basis," according to the KCNA.

Citing military confrontational acts and war drills by North Korea's enemies, Kim said, "It is the most urgent task at present for our state to develop the overwhelming power capable of containing and controlling the enemies."

A hypersonic missile is usually hard to intercept with existing missile defense shields. It travels at a speed of at least Mach 5 -- five times the speed of sound -- and is designed to be maneuverable on unpredictable flight paths and fly at low altitudes.

The KCNA said during Tuesday's test, the hypersonic glide warhead reached its first peak at a height of 101.1 kilometers and the second at 72.3 kilometers while making a 1,000-km-long flight as planned to accurately hit waters in the East Sea.

South Korea's military stood by its assessment of the missile's flight distance and called the North's claims partially "exaggerated," although it said Pyongyang appears to have made some technological progress in its hypersonic weapons program.

"As the first test-firing of a 'new-type solid-fuel hypersonic missile,' this launch appears to be focused on testing the flight capabilities of the missile in its early development stage," a military official said on condition of anonymity.

The official said it will likely take considerable time for North Korea to deploy a hypersonic missile, adding that South Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis of the launch.

Meanwhile, the military also assessed the latest launch involved a hypersonic glide vehicle, compared with a conical-shaped warhead used in the January launch.

"(North Korea) appears to have made meaningful progress in the glide-vehicle type for the first time," Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said. "Glide vehicles are harder to control than conical types but possess varied gliding capabilities to evade ballistic missile defense systems."

North Korea first test-fired a missile tipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle in September 2021, although that launch was seen as a failure.

Experts suspect the North's hypersonic missile is designed to have a range of over 4,000 kilometers, which would place U.S. military bases in Guam within its striking distance.

North Korea has been ramping up weapons tests this year, including the launches of cruise missiles from sea and land and firing drills involving super-large multiple rocket launchers.

The South Korean military is closely monitoring North Korea's preparations for further possible provocations ahead of the April 10 parliamentary elections in South Korea and major political events in Pyongyang this month.

North Korea will celebrate the birthday of late founder Kim Il-sung on April 15 and mark the founding anniversary of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army on April 25.