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North Korea claims progress on hypersonic missile designed to strike US targets

Kim Jong Un had vowed to introduce the weapon to cope with what he called deepening US hostility.

Kim Jong Un

North Korea has successfully tested a solid-fuel engine for its new-type intermediate-range hypersonic missile, state media reported.

The North said this marks progress in its efforts to develop a more powerful, agile missile designed to strike faraway US targets in the region.

A hypersonic missile is among an array of high-tech weapons systems that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un publicly vowed to introduce in 2021 to cope with what he called deepening US hostility.

Outside experts say Mr Kim wants a modernised weapons arsenal to wrest US concessions like sanctions relief when diplomacy resumes.

On Tuesday, Mr Kim guided the ground jet test of the multi-stage solid-fuel engine for the hypersonic missile at the North’s north-western rocket launch facility, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korean leader
A live firing drill was held earlier this week (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

It cited Mr Kim as saying the strategic value of the new missile with an intermediate-range is as important as intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the US mainland, and that “enemies know better about it”.

The agency said that a timetable for completing the development of the new weapons system was “set through the great success in the important test”.

Intermediate-range missiles possessed or pursued by North Korea are the weapons systems primarily aimed at attacking the US Pacific territory of Guam, home to US military bases.

Those missile can also reach Alaska, and with a range adjustment they can be used to strike closer targets like US military installations in Japan’s Okinawa island, experts say.

North Korean leader on a TV screen
Mr Kim has vowed to boost his war deterrent in the face of deepening confrontations with rivals (AP)

In recent years, North Korea has been pushing to develop more weapons with built-in solid propellants, which make launches harder to detect than liquid-propellant missiles that must be fuelled before lift-offs and cannot last long.

The North’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons is also meant to defeat American and South Korean missile defence systems, but it is unclear the North’s hypersonic vehicles proved their desired speed and manoeuvrability during tests in recent years, analysts say.

In January, North Korea said it had flight-tested a new solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile tipped with a hypersonic, manoeuvrable warhead, in a likely reference to the missile mentioned in Wednesday’s KCNA dispatch.

In November, North Korea said it had tested engine tests for an intermedia-range missile but did not say whether it is designed to carry a hypersonic warhead.

While the North’s missile test in January was likely related to the development of its first-stage rocket, this week’s engine test appeared focused on the development of its second-stage rocket in part of the North’s efforts to increase the weapon’s flying speed, said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at South Korea’s Research Institute for National Strategy.

Mr Chang said the latest engine test suggests North Korea could soon test-launch the new hypersonic missile.

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