North Korea tests new hypersonic weapon: reports

North Korea launched its Hwasong-8 vehicle on September 28, 2021. It has a hypersonic upperstage. The North Korean state media released this photo.
North Korea appears to be entering the hypersonic arms race.

According to KCNA Watch - which aggregates news from official North Korean media - the nuclear-armed nation launched a new hypersonic missile called Hwasong-8 Tuesday (Sept.28).

KCNA reported that Hwasong-8 was topped by a hypersonic gliding vessel (HGV) warhead. Hypersonic craft are maneuverable and travel at least five times faster that the speed of sound, or Mach 5. They are much more difficult to track and intercept then intercontinental missiles, which follow predetermined trajectories.

Related: North Korea's missile and rocket program (photos).

In recent years, the United States, Russia, and China have all placed high priority on developing hypersonic weapons. Over the past decade, the U.S. has worked on many different hypersonic designs and achieved an important success with the Hypersonic-breathing Weapon Concept, Pentagon officials announced Monday, Sept. 27.

KCNA also declared Tuesday's Hwasong-8 launch from North Korea's east coast a success.

"In the first test launch of the missile, national defense scientists confirmed its navigational control, stability, and technical specifications in the active section, as well as its technical specifications including the guiding maneuverability of the detached hypersonic gliding weaponhead and its gliding flight characteristics," KCNA's report states.

However, outside experts aren’t as certain. Chang Young-keun, a missile specialist, told Reuters that Tuesday's test resulted in the Hwasong-8’s HGV reaching Mach 2.5. This was based on analyses of South Korean military intelligence.

"The North's HGV technology cannot be compared to those of the U.S.A, Russia, China, and for now seems aimed for short-range that could target South Korea or Japan," Chang, a South Korean citizen based at Korea Aerospace University, Goyang, told Reuters.

The BBC reported Wednesday that the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff believes that North Korean hypersonics technology is not yet battle-ready and that both South Korea and the U.S. are capable of neutralizing the Hwasong-8.

According to the BBC, Tuesday's test was North Korea's third missile launch in September. This suggests that the country may be increasing its arsenal of weapons programs. Despite numerous sanctions that have been imposed on North Korea over the past 15 year by the United Nations Security Council and the United States, some of its allies, the work on these programs continues.

North Korea is an isolated dictatorship run by Kim Jong Un. The nation's top officials have been repeatedly involved in saber-rattling against North Korea’s perceived enemies over the years. They threatened to make major U.S. cities "seas for fire" Experts closely monitor North Korea's missile and rocket programs. This is because North Korea has nuclear weapons.