North Korea claimed that a missile test in late September involved a new hypersonic missile. That weapon appears to have been on display at a big event this week.
KCNA via REUTERS
North Korea showed off what appears to be a hypersonic missile at a defense exhibition in Pyongyang.
The weapon looks like it could be the purported hypersonic missile tested late last month, experts said.
At Monday’s event, Kim Jong Un vowed to build an “invincible military” to fend off US hostility.
North Korea gave observers a good look at what appears to be a new hypersonic missile at an event Monday celebrating the country’s defense capabilities, an event where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would build an “invincible military” defend itself against US hostility.
Surrounded by various weaponry, Kim said at the Self-Defense 2021 exhibition in Pyongyang that North Korea is “not discussing war with anyone” but aims to “prevent war itself and to literally increase war deterrence for the protection of national sovereignty.”
During the big defense event, the North Korean leader reviewed various missile systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles theoretically able to reach the continental US. Some systems have been tested, while others have only been displayed at military events.
Among the North Korean weapon systems presented at the exhibition and displayed in state-run media reporting on the event is what experts said appears to be the hypersonic missile that North Korea claims to have tested last month – the Hwasong-8.
-Dr. Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) October 12, 2021
North Korea announced in late September that it had test-fired a new hypersonic missile. At the time, state media reported on the test, noting evaluations of the “detached hypersonic gliding warhead.” There was only one photo from the test, and it was simply a silhouette of the missile.
-William Gallo (@GalloVOA) September 28, 2021
Footage from Monday’s exhibition offered multiple views of the new weapon.
“That looks like the same glider they tested last month,” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Insider, pointing out that “we can now see its shape more clearly. It’s not a cone but rather a winged body with a flat bottom.”
He added that the concept seems similar to the DF-17 that China unveiled in 2019 at a military parade marking the country’s National Day.
Military vehicles carrying DF-17 hypersonic missiles travel past Tiananmen Square during the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People’s Republic of China.
In both cases, the weapon design features a ballistic missile carrying a boost-glide vehicle on a transporter-erector launcher.
The rocket gets the hypersonic glide vehicle up to speed (at least Mach 5) before it detaches, moving along an unpredictable flight path that makes it harder to intercept as it rushes toward its final destination.
For North Korea, while it is clear that it is now in the competition to develop new hypersonic missiles, a competition that involves powerful countries like China, Russia, and the US, it is difficult to know where they are in the development process or how the system performs.
Ankit Panda, a North Korea expert and a Stanton Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained to Insider that “it certainly looks like what we’d expect a notional hypersonic glider to look like.” But, he said, “that tells us little about the materials it’s made from or its real-world aerodynamic performance.”
South Korean military leaders said after last month’s missile test that “it appears to be at an early stage of development that would require considerable time for actual deployment.”
Panda said that while the weapons technology on display is noteworthy, “the bigger picture here is that this event was a full-scale celebration of North Korea’s defense scientists and technicians right as the new military modernization campaign spins up.”
“Kim’s trying to ensure that this community is full-on morale, especially while the broader economic picture in the country looks quite dire.”