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After witnessing hypersonic missile launch, Kim Jong Un pushes for additional ‘military power’

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Eighth Conference of Military Educationists of the Korean People's Army at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea in this undated photo released on December 7, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for bolstering the country’s strategic military forces as he watched a hypersonic missile test, state media reported on Wednesday, marking his first official attendance at a missile launch in nearly two years.

The news: The purported launch was detected on Tuesday by authorities in South Korea and Japan, prompting criticism from governments throughout the world and a statement of concern from the United Nations Secretary-General.

  • The second launch of a ‘hypersonic missile’ in less than a week reaffirmed Kim’s New Year’s resolution to strengthen the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the US have stalled.
  • Following the demonstration, Kim encouraged military scientists to “further accelerate efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military might, both in quality and quantity, and further modernise the army,” according to the KCNA news agency.
  • It was Kim’s first formal attendance at a missile test since March 2020.

What’s going on: Ankit Panda, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the United States, tweeted, “His presence here would signal a particular emphasis on this programme.”

  • Unlike other recent tests, the governing party daily Rodong Sinmun included images of Kim at the launch on the front page.
  • “While Kim may have informally attended other tests in the interval, this presence and its front-page coverage in the Rodong Sinmun is significant,” said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, a North Korean watchdog. “It implies that Kim is unconcerned about being personally involved in the testing of key new technology. And doesn’t give a damn what the US thinks.”
  • The United Nations Security Council has passed resolutions prohibiting North Korea from conducting ballistic missile and nuclear tests, as well as imposing sanctions on the country.
  • Negotiations to persuade North Korea to renounce or limit its nuclear and missile arsenal have stagnated, with Pyongyang stating it is open to diplomacy but only if the US and its allies end “hostile policies” like sanctions and military drills.

What they’re saying: The launches, according to US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, are dangerous and destabilising.

  • She said during a routine briefing in Washington on Tuesday that it “clearly puts us in the wrong track. As you know, the US has been stating since this administration took office that it is open to discussion with North Korea, that it is open to talking about COVID and humanitarian aid, and instead they are firing missiles.”
  • The European Union termed North Korea’s latest missile launch a “threat to international peace and security” on Tuesday, and urged Pyongyang to resume negotiations.
  • Despite their name, analysts say the key attribute of hypersonic weapons is their manoeuvrability, which makes them a serious danger to missile defence systems. Traditional ballistic missile warheads can sometimes match or exceed hypersonic weapons in terms of speed.
  • According to observers, photos released by state media appeared to show the same type of missile and warhead that was tested last week.

What’s important: A hypersonic glide vehicle made a 600 km (375 mile) ‘glide jump flight’ after being released from the rocket booster, followed by 240 km of ‘corkscrew manoeuvring’ before reaching a target in the sea 1,000 km away.

  • After the first test last week, South Korean officials questioned the missile’s capabilities, claiming it did not appear to exhibit the range and manoeuvrability indicated in a state media report and instead included a manoeuvrable warhead rather than a real glide vehicle.
  • South Korea stated on Tuesday that the second test looked to show enhanced performance, with the missile reaching high speeds of up to ten times the speed of sound (12,348 km/h / 7,673 miles per hour), though they did not remark on its manoeuvrability.
  • “The hypersonic glide vehicle’s outstanding manoeuvrability was more starkly validated during the final test-fire,” according to KCNA.

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