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Kim Jong-un declares ‘solid-fueled, nuclear-armed’ missile system complete

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North Korea successfully tested the Hwasong-16 missile, an IRBM equipped with a newly developed hypersonic warhead, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
North Korea successfully tested the Hwasong-16 missile, an IRBM equipped with a newly developed hypersonic warhead, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

North Korea announced on Wednesday that it successfully test-fired a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) equipped with a hypersonic warhead.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared that the regime’s missile system was complete as all missiles are “solid-fueled, warhead-controlled” and nuclear-armed.

Kim guided the test for the Hwasong-16 missile, an IRBM equipped with a newly developed hypersonic warhead, on Tuesday, according to an English-language report on Wednesday from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The test launch confirmed the overall design and technical characteristics of the missile and verified the reliability of the weapon system, the KCNA said.

“The test verified the gliding-skip flight orbit and the cross-range maneuvering capability of the hypersonic glide vehicle (warhead),” the KCNA reported. “Testing was confined within a range of less than 1,000 kilometers [621.3 miles] for safety. The speed and altitude of the missile was controlled by delaying the start of the second-stage engine and rapidly changing the flight orbit while in the active region.”

The hypersonic warhead IRBM “reached its first peak at a height of 101.1 kilometers and its second peak at 72.3 kilometers while making the scheduled 1,000-km-long flight to accurately hit the waters of the East Sea of Korea,” the KCNA said.

This suggests that the missile flew on a typical ballistic missile trajectory of rising, descending, then rising again.

On Tuesday, the South’s Joint Chief of Staff said it detected an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired from Pyongyang and that it landed in the East Sea after flying for more than 600 kilometers.

Since last year, North Korea has been focusing on upgrading its IRBMs, which were previously less strategic due to their lack of solid-fueling. Considered a relatively weak link in North Korea’s missile system, IRBMs have a range of 3,000 to 5,500 kilometers, putting them within striking distance of targets such as Okinawa, Japan and Guam.

North Korea conducted its first solid-engine ground-based IRBM test in November last year. On Jan. 14 this year, it test-fired an intermediate-range hypersonic missile and conducted a ground engine test for a new hypersonic missile on March 19.

Hypersonic missiles can travel at a speed of Mach 5, maneuver unpredictable flight paths and fly at low altitudes. At Mach 5, a hypersonic missile can fly the 195-kilometer distance between Pyongyang and Seoul in approximately two minutes.

“Another powerful strategic offensive weapon was developed to demonstrate the absolute advantage of our defense science and technology,” Kim said about the test of the new IRBM equipped with a hypersonic warhead, according to the KCNA.

“We will successfully implement the Party Central Committee’s three principles by building a missile-armed force able to rapidly, accurately and powerfully strike any enemy target worldwide. To do this, we will make all our tactical, operational and strategic missiles warhead-controlled and able to carry nuclear warheads.”

At the test launch announced Wednesday, Kim Jong-un was accompanied by Kim Jong-sik, the vice department director of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and General Jan Chang-ha, general director of the Missile Administration.

BY LIM JEONG-WON [lim.jeongwon@joongang.co.kr]