TechNorth Korea Unveils Supersonic Missile in Display of Military Might

North Korea Unveils Supersonic Missile in Display of Military Might

Hwasong-16 is probably not yet ready to be classified as an IRBM.
Hwasong-16 is probably not yet ready to be classified as an IRBM.
Images source: © Korean Central News Agency
3:39 PM EDT, April 24, 2024
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) has recently unveiled another type of ballistic missile capable of supersonic travel. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on April 3rd about a test carried out by the Academy of Defence Science involving the solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile known as Hwasong-16Na or Hwasong-16B.
This test was overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, alongside notable figures such as the Vice Chairman of the Department of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim Jong Sik, and the Director of the Missile Administration of the Academy of Defence Science, General Jang Chang Ha. This significant event was staged with the typical propaganda flair associated with North Korea's display of military might.

Kim Jong Un's New Strategic Deterrent

According to state-controlled media, the test aimed to verify the technical specifications and reliability of a hypersonic gliding warhead equipped as the missile's payload. However, the actual performance details, such as the achieved speed, remain undisclosed, leaving room for speculation and doubt.

The launch was reportedly aimed at demonstrating a controlled trajectory and speed by limiting the warhead's range to approximately 621 miles and reaching an altitude of 62.7 miles before separating and continuing its glide to the target.

Contrasting views came from the Japanese Coast Guard and the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reported shorter travel distances and concluded that the warhead ultimately landed in the Sea of Japan. This discrepancy highlights the challenge of verifying claims from North Korea's tightly controlled information sources.

This occasion marks the third instance of North Korea announcing a type of hypersonic weapon. The first and second weapons, Hwasong-8 and Hwasong-12Na(B) were introduced on September 14, 2021, and July 26, 2023, respectively, showcasing a progressive development in this advanced armament category.

Previous tests have shown varying degrees of success, with the most notable test before the latest claiming a maximum speed of Mach 10 and a significant increase in distance covered. These developments underscore North Korea's ambition to enhance its missile capabilities, potentially benefiting from cooperation with Russia and the technological advancements from the Zircon 3M22 program.

The latest test also marks a significant step in combining solid-fuel rockets with ballistic missiles equipped with maneuverable reentry vehicles (MaRV), which would offer strategic advantages by reducing launch preparation times and improving target precision.

Kim's missiles can be a threat not only to Guam but also to Wake, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, which in the event of a possible clash with the PRC will play a significant role.
Kim's missiles can be a threat not only to Guam but also to Wake, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, which in the event of a possible clash with the PRC will play a significant role.© Korean Central News Agency

Despite these advancements, the current range of North Korea's missiles falls short of posing a direct threat to U.S. territories such as Guam. Experts remain skeptical that North Korea's missiles, with actual combat loads, could achieve the necessary range to be considered a formal threat.

The dynamic cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow, particularly in the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, highlights a growing concern for the U.S. and its allies in the region. Regardless of the true capabilities of the Hwasong-16Na, its testing represents a stepping stone for North Korea in posing a broader security challenge in the Pacific, affecting neighboring allies such as South Korea and Japan.
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