North Korea claims to have tested hypersonic missile
North Korea claims to have fired a new type of ballistic missile carrying a “detached hypersonic planing warhead”. The Pyongyang regime has so far only released one image, seen at the top of this story, of this weapon, called the Hwasong-8, which makes independent assessments difficult. and South Korea, the two countries having unveiled a slew of new designs in recent weeks.
The missile, which the North Korean state media qualified as “strategic” a term generally used for nuclear weapons, was taken from Mupyong Ri in North Korea early Tuesday morning local time. The test took place just before Kim Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, delivered his speech at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly at the organization’s headquarters in New York, where he declared the “just law” of his country make such launches.
South Korean Yonhap News Agency had already reported that there might be indications that the weapon the North had tested was of a novel design and might include some sort of handy re-entry vehicle. Sources in Seoul said the missile flew less than 200 kilometers [approximately 124 miles] at an altitude of about 60 km [approximately 37 miles], adding that it shows “different flight characteristics of the missiles that the North has tested previously” ” a story of the point of sale read.
At the time of launch, one of the South Korean Air Force’s E-737 Peace Eye airborne early warning and control aircraft was in flight over the central part of that country. These planes are equipped with a high-performance active multi-role electronic scanning radar which could have followed the flight of the missile and potentially collected telemetry data.
The only photo North Korea has released of the Hwasong-8 so far only shows it in silhouette, but it has a very wide and distinct nose section with ailerons, suggesting some sort of maneuverability. Attempts by experts and observers to manipulate the image to try to determine the exact structure of the payload section have produced inconclusive results. There is always the possibility that the original North Korean image will also be fabricated.
If the image is legitimate, the shape certainly has very broad similarities to the hypersonic boost-glide vehicle of the Chinese DF-17 missile. It could also just be a very large, manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle, or MaRV.
Non-motorized boost-glide vehicles, in general, use a rocket thruster to bring them to optimum altitude and speed, after which the glider detaches and descends towards its target at hypersonic speeds, defined as anything above Mach. 5. These types of vehicles follow an atmospheric flight path to their target and are generally characterized by a high degree of maneuverability.
This combination of speed, maneuverability and flight profile makes them extremely difficult targets for air defense networks to track and intercept, compared to traditional ballistic missiles, even those with advanced MaRVs. All of this reduces the amount of time an opponent has to respond, including simply taking cover or otherwise moving critical assets.
A MaRV operates in a broadly similar fashion, but generally with much more limited handling and still largely following a ballistic trajectory during the mid-point portion of its flight. They typically have the ability of “porpoise” or “glide jump,” in which they suddenly straighten up at least once in the terminal phase of flight, creating one or more “steps” in the downward path. This gives the warhead an irregular flight path and can be used to make basic course corrections, while providing a way to extend the weapon’s overall range and make it more difficult to intercept.
There is no indication yet in any way that the vehicle above the Hwasong-8, regardless of its exact design, performed as intended. The most basic hypersonic boost-glide vehicles are notoriously complex systems that appear to be outside of North Korea’s technological capabilities.
The Hwasong-8’s first stage rocket motor setup is also visible in the photo, showing a single large nozzle in the center and a number of smaller ones along the edges. All Hwasong series missiles are liquid fuel models. North Korean state media claimed that this weapon had an improved “fuel capsule” with increased stability, which could indicate a design capable of remaining fueled for an extended period. Liquid rocket fuel is volatile and corrosive, making it dangerous to handle and limiting the length of time that missiles that use it can generally remain in a powered state. The need to feed them before launch reduces their flexibility and can increase their vulnerability to hostile attacks.
Interestingly, rocket motor arrangements similar to that seen on the Hwasong-8 have previously been found on the Hwasong-12 Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) and the Hwasong-14 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). This raises the possibility that at least the first stage of the Hwasong-8 is linked to one of these missiles. It’s also worth pointing out that Mupyong Ri is where the Hwasong-14 was first tested in 2017.
One of the Hwasong-12 or Hwasong-14 would offer an existing design capable of lifting new designs of very heavy warheads of different types. It’s also worth noting that North Koreans typically have the option of swapping out a range for increased payload weight when designing missiles given the proximity to their main adversary, South Korea. In other words, a mid-range missile could potentially be adapted to carry a much larger payload over much shorter distances. The push to increase the size of warheads on various missile systems has become a palpable reality between the North and the South in recent times.
Regardless of the exact design of the Hwasong-8 and whether this test was successful or not, it is yet another demonstration of North Korea’s ever-growing ballistic and cruise missile capabilities and ambitions. to develop new and improved designs. A clear desire on Pyongyang’s part to develop various means to defeat South Korean and American air and missile defenses has already been a clear driver of many of these developments, and an accelerated glide hypersonic vehicle or even a large MaRV would offer. additional capacities. in this regard.
The launch of Hwasong-8 is also the latest in a series that the North and South have waged in an arms race between the two halves of the Korean Peninsula. This North Korean test took place the same day that South Korean media reported that the country’s Defense Development Agency (ADD) had tested a new ballistic missile with a six-ton warhead and was working on it. another with a seven-to- eight-ton payload. In the past two weeks alone, North Korea has also tested a new ground-launched long-range cruise missile and a mobile ballistic missile system on rails. This month, South Korea revealed five of its own advanced missile developments, including a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, a “high-power” land-launched ballistic missile and a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile.
If North Korea follows past trends, the Pyongyang regime will likely release more official statements and images regarding this newly disclosed weapon soon, which will hopefully provide more opportunities to assess what its might be. actual capabilities. Considering recent developments on the peninsula, we may also be considering further disclosures related to missiles from the South in the near future.
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