North Korea ‘hypersonic’ missile test forces US to ground flights

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South Korean officials had questioned the capabilities of the first missile test last week, saying it did not appear to demonstrate the range and manoeuverability claimed in a state media report and featured a manoeuverable warhead rather than an actual glide vehicle.

On Tuesday, however, South Korea said the second test appeared to show improved performance, with the missile reaching top speeds up to 10 times the speed of sound (12,348 km per hour / 7,673 miles per hour), although they did not comment on its manoeuverability.

Washington condemned Pyongyang, accusing Kim Jong-un of threatening North Korea’s neighbours and the rest of the world.

“This launch is in violation of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions and poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community,” the State Department said, using the abbreviation for North Korea’s official name. 

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.

The 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”.

The missile, fired towards the sea east of the peninsula on Tuesday at around 7.27am (10.27 Monday in the UK), flew 700 kilometres (435 miles) at an altitude of around 60 kilometres at Mach 10 speed (about 7,673mph), 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 missiles were listed among the “top priority” tasks for strategic weapons in North Korea’s current five-year plan, and it announced its first test – of the Hwasong-8 – in September last year.

Pyongyang 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 UN Security Council meeting to discuss Pyongyang’s weapons programs came after six countries, including the United States and Japan, called on North Korea to “engage in meaningful dialogue towards our shared goal of complete denuclearisation”.

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