SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea yesterday, with South Korea’s military warning the second such weapons test in less than a week showed clear signs of progress.
The early-morning launch came as the United Nations (UN) Security Council met in New York to discuss last week’s test of what Pyongyang called a hypersonic missile, although Seoul has cast doubt on that claim.
But the South Korean military said the “suspected ballistic missile” launched yesterday had reached hypersonic speeds – a sign of “progress” from last week’s test.
In the decade since leader Kim Jong-un took power, North Korea has seen rapid advances in its military technology at the cost of international sanctions.
Yesterday’s missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. While there were no immediate reports of damage, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the launch “extremely regrettable”.
US Forces Korea said the test “highlights the destabilising impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons programme”, using the acronym of North Korea’s official name. The missile, fired towards the sea east of the peninsula yesterday at around 7.27am flew 700 kilometres at an altitude of around 60 kilometres at Mach 10 speed, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of Mach 5 and higher and can manoeuvre mid-flight, making them harder to track and intercept.
The UN Security Council meeting to discuss Pyongyang’s weapons programmes came after six countries, including the United States (US) and Japan, called on North Korea to “engage in meaningful dialogue towards our shared goal of complete denuclearisation”.
Pyongyang had likely planned the latest launch to coincide with the UN meeting “to maximise its political impact”, researcher at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy Shin Beom-chul told AFP.
He said the launch looked like a hypersonic missile test, judging by the purported speed, but warned against reading too much into it.
“Since South Korea claimed (the January 5 test) wasn’t a hypersonic missile referring to the speed, Pyongyang may have tried to showcase its maximum speed,” this time around, he said.
Hypersonic missiles were listed among the “top priority” tasks for strategic weapons in its current five-year plan, and it announced its first test – of the Hwasong-8 – in September last year.
yongyang has also said it had successfully tested new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a long-range cruise missile, and a train-launched weapon in 2021.
The new tests come as North Korea has refused to respond to US appeals for talks.
At a key meeting of North Korea’s ruling party last month, Kim vowed to continue building up the country’s defence capabilities, without mentioning America.