By Yoonjung Seo and Brad Lendon, CNN
A suspected ballistic missile launched by North Korea on Tuesday was more advanced than the missile Pyongyang tested last week, reaching a velocity of more than 10 times the speed of sound, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Tuesday’s projectile was launched from Jangang province, near the North Korean border with China and landed in the ocean between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, its flight covering a distance of more than 700 kilometers (435 miles) and reaching a height of 60 kilometers (37 miles), the statement said.
North Korea said Wednesday that it successfully test-fired a hypersonic missile, according to North Korean state media, making it the third alleged test of such a weapon by the Kim Jong Un regime. Kim attended the launch, state media reported.
“The hypersonic glide flight combat unit separated from the launched missile, made an upward glide from 600 km (372 miles) and performed a strong turning maneuver of 240 km (149 miles) from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth, and hit the set target in the 1,000 km (621 miles) water area,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday morning.
“Through this final test launch, the excellent maneuverability of the hypersonic glide combat unit was more clearly confirmed,” KCNA said.
Assessment of the test by South Korean and United States intelligence was ongoing, but initial analysis showed Tuesday’s test, in which the projectile reached a speed of Mach 10 was of a more advanced weapon than the test North Korea conducted last Thursday, the South Korean Joint Chiefs said.
That test was also of what North Korean state media claimed was a hypersonic missile. However, many experts doubted this claim.
That skepticism continued Wednesday.
“North Korea’s so-called hypersonic weapon is not technologically ready for deployment,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“But state media hyped the latest test, personally supervised by Kim Jong-un, as ‘final verification’ of a new military capability. This looks like classic North Korean box checking, claiming success of an agenda item from Kim’s earlier speech in an attempt to bolster political legitimacy and increase diplomatic pressure,” Easley said.
A hypersonic missile actually refers to the payload that a rocket carries aloft. In this case, that payload could be what is called a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV).
An HGV can theoretically fly as fast as 20 times the speed of sound and can be very maneuverable in flight, making it almost impossible to shoot down, according to experts.
But a South Korean government statement Tuesday said, “Our military has the ability to detect and intercept this projectile, and we are continuously strengthening our response system.”
South Korea “expressed a strong regret over the North’s launch, which took place at a time when political stability is very important.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the North Korean launch “destabilizing.”
“The launch is in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. It poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. We call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantive dialogue,” Psaki said.
Pyongyang is barred from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons under international law.
A statement from US Forces Korea said the test posed no threat to US or South Korean territory or military personnel.
Tuesday’s test covered about the same distance at last week’s, 700 kilometers (435 miles), and the missile fell into the sea outside of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.
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