North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversees hypersonic missile test

Friday, January 14, 2022

On January 12, North Korean state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported a Tuesday hypersonic missile launch attended by leader Kim Jong-un and high-ranking politicians Jo Yong Won and Kim Yo-jong. This was the third missile North Korea (DPRK) launched this year. It flew for 1,000 kilometers (621 mi) before hitting sea, state media claimed.

A 2018 stock photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Image: Blue House (Republic of Korea).

"The Juche weapon representing the power of the DPRK" and of "superior maneuverability" was test-fired for "final verification of overall technical specifications", according to state media. In an email sent to Al Jazeera, professor Leif-Eric Easley at Ewha University in Seoul, South Korea said "[the] so-called hypersonic weapon is not technologically ready". South Korean military authorities at first downplayed the missile, but later said it showed "improvement", the Yonhap News Agency reported.

Earlier this year, North Korea conducted two missile tests: one last Wednesday, and a second one on Monday, which were confirmed by both South Korea and the Japanese coast guard. The first launch was a winter resilience test, state media claimed. North Korea tested their first hypersonic missile, Hwasong-8, on September 28. Ankit Panda, a defence expert from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said last Wednesday's missile was not a Hwasong-8, but a new model unveiled at an October weapons exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea. After the September test, Panda called Hwasong-8 a "significant milestone" in comments to the BBC.

On Monday, the United Nations (UN) missions of Albania, France, the Republic of Ireland, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States jointly called for dialogue and denounced the first test. The US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield called it "a significant threat to regional stability". On Tuesday, South Korean president Moon Jae-in said the tests worry him ahead of the country's coming presidential election scheduled for March.

Hypersonic missiles are faster and can evade radar detection longer than regular ballistic missiles, the BBC explained.