Is North Korea’s hypersonic missile really comparable to Russia and China?

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North Korea announced the test of a second hypersonic missile, while Russia and China are the only two countries believed to possess this super-advanced weapon.

North Korea has confirmed that it test-fired a hypersonic missile on January 5. This is the second hypersonic missile test under the leadership of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Previously, in September 2021, North Korea tested a hypersonic missile for the first time. But analysts are cautious when making assessments related to information that North Korea has possessed advanced weapons that few countries in the world have. Basically analysts have not been able to determine if the missile North Korea launched was a hypersonic missile or a hype by North Korea.

North Korea says it has tested hypersonic missile, launched from  Russian-made vehicle

“A hypersonic missile that can defeat advanced missile-defense systems is a game changer if a nuclear warhead is mated to it,” said Drew Thompson, a former US defence Department official, after North Korea’s hypersonic missile launch in September 2021.

And after the launch on January 5, Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, said that more time and improvement is needed before Pyongyang can use hypersonic weapons.

“North Korea will need at least two or three more test launches in the future to perfect the hypersonic missile,” Cheong said.

Traveling through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound (about 6,200 km/h), hypersonic weapons pose a challenge to current missile defense systems. So far, only two countries, Russia and China, are believed to possess deployable hypersonic missiles.

In December 2019, Russia announced that the Avangard hypersonic missile system had entered service. In a speech to the Russian parliament in 2018, President Vladimir Putin affirmed that the Avangard system surpassed all Western air defense systems.

In January 2020, President Putin also supervised the test of a second hypersonic missile system called Kinzhal and was launched off the coast of Crimea. Continuing in November 2021, Russia said that it had successfully test-fired a Zircon hypersonic missile.

Meanwhile, in August 2021, the US military said that China had tested a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) that could carry a nuclear warhead and launched a mid-air missile in the South China Sea. Some experts believe that China’s HGV-launched missile is an air-to-air missile, and can also be a disguise to disrupt missile defense systems.

For its part, China has denied the accusations and insisted that what the US called the hypersonic missile launch was just a “routine test of the space program”.

Earlier, during the military parade in 2019, China showed off the DF-17 missile, which can deploy HGV. The report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies quoted US defense officials as saying that the DF-17 has a strike range of 2,500 km.

A report last year from the Arms Control Association in Washington, DC said the US is working on eight types of hypersonic weapons. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Projects Agency under the US Department of Defense admits that the US military has not successfully tested any hypersonic weapons.

Is North Korea’s statement credible?

North Korea carried out a missile launch on January 5, and on January 6, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released the image. But rocket experts claim that looking at the photos, they cannot be sure that this is a hypersonic missile.

“The North Korean missile carries a large maneuverable re-entry vehicle (MaRV) warhead. North Korea advertising it as ‘supersonic’ is not wrong, but to be more specific, it does not mean a hypersonic missile,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Calfornia. determined.

“Whether North Korea’s missile is classified as an HGV or a MaRV is currently unknown,” added Joseph Dempsey, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

In fact, MaRV is a technology that the US military has deployed for decades and has long been used by South Korea, according to Mr. Pollack.

MaRV has similar features to HGV but has less maneuverability and mainly flies in a fixed trajectory in the middle of the journey. They can suddenly increase in altitude when approaching the target and move in an up and down flight path to help increase range, adjust flight direction and make it more difficult for enemy missile defense systems.

In the statement, KCNA said that during the launch on January 5, the “supersonic glide warhead” separated from the rocket booster and moved 120 km horizontally before “precisely hitting” a target located far away 700 km.

KCNA further emphasized that the missile demonstrated its ability to control its flight path and operate in the cold winter.

What’s next?“Rather than showing a willingness to participate in nuclear disarmament negotiations, or interested in declaring an end to the war on the Korean peninsula,” said Associate Professor Leif-Eric Easley at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. The North Korean government wants to send a signal that neither the Omicron mutation nor the domestic food shortage will stop the country from developing missiles.”

Cheong also said that in fact, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was not directly involved in supervising the missile test on January 5. This shows that Pyongyang wants to show that this is only part of its normal defense capacity development. In other words, North Korea will do more similar actions in the future.

“The missile launch is part of a five-year defense development plan adopted during the 8th congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University.

“This is also seen as North Korea’s request to the international community to give up the double standards related to its weapons development. North Korea wants to demonstrate that its tests are no different from South Korea’s missile development,” Park concluded.

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