North Korean state media says the country has conducted a successful test of a hypersonic missile, with leader Kim Jong-un attending the launch for the first time in more than a year.
On Tuesday, authorities in South Korea and Japan detected the suspected launch, which drew condemnation from authorities in Washington and Tokyo and prompted an expression of concern from the UN secretary-general.
The second test in less than a week underscored Mr Kim’s New Year’s vow to bolster the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the US have stalled.
It was the first time since March 2020 that Mr Kim had officially attended a missile test.
“His presence here would suggest particular attention on this program,” Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, posted on Twitter.
Unlike after other recent tests, ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos of Mr Kim attending the launch on its front page.
“While Kim probably unofficially attended other tests in the interim, this appearance and its page one feature on Rodong Sinmun is important,” said Chad O’Carroll, chief executive of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea.
“It means Kim is not concerned about being personally associated [with] tests of major new tech. And doesn’t care how the US sees this.”
UN Security Council resolutions ban all North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests and have imposed sanctions over the programs.
Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to surrender or limit its arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles have been stalled, with Pyongyang saying it is open to diplomacy but only if the US and its allies stop “hostile policies” such as sanctions or military drills.
Photos released by state media appeared to show the same type of missile and warhead that was first tested last week, analysts said.
“The test-fire was aimed at the final verification of overall technical specifications of the developed hypersonic weapon system,” state news agency KCNA reported on Wednesday.
After its release from the rocket booster, a hypersonic glide vehicle made a 600-kilometre “glide jump flight” and then a 240-kilometre “sea in waters” 1000 kilometres away, the report said.
South Korean officials had questioned the capabilities of the missile after the first test last week, saying it did not appear to demonstrate the range and manoeuvrability claimed in a state media report and featured a manoeuvrable warhead rather than an actual glide vehicle.
On Tuesday, however, South Korea said the second test appeared to show improved performance, with the missile reaching top speeds up to 10 times the speed of sound (12,348km/h), though they did not comment on its manoeuvrability.
“The superior manoeuvrability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more strikingly verified through the final test-fire,” KCNA said.
Mr Kim urged military scientists to “further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernise the army,” KCNA added.