North Korea says the latest weapon it tested was a hypersonic missile

A missile is seen launched earlier this month, that time from a train. North Korea now claims it has tested a hypersonic missile.
A missile is seen launched earlier this month, that time from a train. North Korea now claims it has tested a hypersonic missile. KCNA via REUTERS
  • North Korea tested a missile Tuesday that was initially identified as a short-range ballistic missile.
  • North Korean state media claims it tested a hypersonic weapon called the Hwasong-8.
  • North Korea reportedly expressed an interest in developing hypersonic weapon technology earlier this year.
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North Korea has provided some new details on its latest missile test, claiming in a state media article that it test-fired a hypersonic missile.

North Korea has test-fired missiles six times this year, with the latest test occurring Tuesday. The test, which was the third this month, involved a short-range missile, the South Korean military said.

North Korean state media outlet KCNA reported on Wednesday local time that it actually launched a hypersonic missile.

Hypersonic missiles are a key area of great power competition between the US, China, and Russia. It is unclear if what North Korea claims to be a hypersonic missile is actually a hypersonic weapon in the same way that other countries use the term.

KCNA reported that the missile is known as the Hwasong-8 and was launched from Toyang-ri.

During the missile test, which was aimed at “boosting the independent power of ultra-modern defense science and technology of the country and in increasing the nation’s capabilities for self-defense in every way,” scientists confirmed key navigation control and stability attributes, as well as the “guiding maneuverability” and “gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead,” state media said.

Launched using a conventional rocket booster, hypersonic weapons generally carry a detachable glide body that eventually separates from the rocket and then continues on to the target.

After the separation, the hypersonic glide vehicle is no longer able to accelerate, but it retains the ability to maneuver.

Hypersonic weapons fly at speeds of at least Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, but it is their maneuverability and unpredictable flight path that makes them especially dangerous and difficult for traditional air- and missile-defense systems to intercept and eliminate.

In January, North Korea said a goal was to “develop and introduce hypersonic gliding flight warheads in a short period” and stated that it had “finished research into developing warheads of different combat missions including the hypersonic gliding flight warheads for new-type ballistic rockets and was making preparations for their test manufacture.”