SEOUL: North Korea appeared to test-fire a ballistic missile on Tuesday (Jan 11) that may be more advanced than a “hypersonic” one it launched less than a week ago, South Korea’s military said, as Pyongyang pursues increasingly powerful weapons.
Tuesday’s launch, condemned by authorities in Washington and Tokyo and prompting an expression of concern from the UN secretary general, underscored North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s vow to bolster the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the United States have stalled.
Initial estimates found the missile travelled more than 700km to a maximum altitude of 60km at up to 10 times the speed of sound (12,348 kmh), South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.
“We assess that this is more advanced than the missile North Korea fired on Jan 5, though South Korean and US intelligence authorities are conducting detailed analysis,” the JCS said.
It was the first time since early 2020 that leader Kim Jong Un had officially attended a missile test, said state news agency KCNA.
The launch was detected around 7:27am (2227 GMT Monday) from North Korea’s Jagang Province toward the ocean off its east coast, the same location as last week’s test.
The US military’s Indopacific Command said while it had assessed that the launch did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies, it “highlights the destabilising impact of North Korea’s illicit weapons program.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Tuesday it briefly halted departures at some US West Coast airports around the time of reports that North Korea had launched a ballistic missile.
A US official said the pause lasted less than 15 minutes “due to initial reports of events in the Indo-Pacific region,” without directly tying it to the missile launch.
North Korea has joined a global race in developing hypersonic missiles, usually defined as types reaching at least five times the speed of sound – and which can manoeuvre at relatively low trajectories, making them much harder to detect and intercept.
South Korean military officials cast doubts on the capabilities of the hypersonic missile North Korea claimed to have test-fired last Wednesday, saying it appeared to represent limited progress over Pyongyang’s existing ballistic missiles.
“Today’s test might be intended to send a message to the South after authorities here said the earlier test was a failure and did not involve a hypersonic missile,” Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University.