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May 29, 2024

North Korea Claims Successful Test of New Solid-Fuel ICBM with Hypersonic Warhead

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Jan 16, 2024

North Korea announced Sunday that it had successfully tested a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The launch is Pyongyang’s first show of military might in 2023 and signals a concerning advancement of its weapons program.

Missile Flew 700km at Mach 10 Before Hitting Target

According to state-run media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the Hwasong-19 missile was launched Saturday morning from the Sunan area of Pyongyang. It flew 700km (434 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 6,046km (3,790 miles) at Mach 10 speed before hitting a preset area in the ocean [1]. KCNA boasted the successful launch proved the reliability of their new solid-fuel engine which allows missiles to be deployed faster.

Solid-fuel missiles offer key advantages over liquid-fuel versions: they can stay fueled for years in storage and launch within minutes. This gives the U.S. little warning compared to the lengthy fueling process required for older North Korean ICBMs [2].

Missile Capable of Striking U.S. with Nuclear Warhead

Defense analysts note the Hwasong-19, which seems to be an iteration of missiles tested last year, may be powerful enough to potentially strike anywhere in the U.S. with a nuclear warhead [3]. Its hypersonic glide vehicle – which travels over five times the speed of sound – poses a significant challenge to defense systems due to extreme speed and maneuverability.

Missile Specs
Type Solid-fuel ICBM
Warhead Hypersonic glide vehicle
Range 15,000+ km
Payload Nuclear

“North Korea is pushing ahead with illegal weapons development despite United Nation Security Council resolutions,” Japan’s Defense Minister said in a statement. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command called the launch a “threat to regional stability” [4].

Provocation Follows Easing of Tensions with Seoul

Notably, North Korea’s first missile test of 2023 follows signs of warming relations with South Korea. Just a week ago, Kim Jong Un called for greater cooperation between the rival nations in a New Year’s speech [5]. The launch casts doubts over Seoul’s aims to leverage Winter Olympics talks to kickstart diplomacy.

President Yoon said his military would expand joint drills with the U.S. in response to the North’s “provocation” [6]. Meanwhile China, North Korea’s main ally, warned against actions raising tensions amid stalled denuclearization talks [7].

Kim Pursuing Rapid Weapons Development

Analysts see the missile launch as the latest evidence that Kim Jong Un is aggressively pursuing advanced weapons parallel with diplomacy. 2022 saw record tests as Pyongyang worked to arm itself with tactical nukes and missiles that can overwhelm enemy defenses.

“Kim continues to demonstrate long range missiles are a key element of deterrence,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul commented [8].

With talks stalled since 2019, North Korea is expected to continue military tests this year perfecting missiles that place the U.S. within striking distance [9]. Saturday’s launch proves the North remains undeterred by sanctions and has alarming new capabilities in its ever-growing nuclear arsenal.

History of Weapons Development and Failed Diplomacy

North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons began in the Soviet era, but accelerated under Kim Jong Il who flouted international condemnation to conduct the country’s first nuclear test in 2006 [10].

His son, Kim Jong Un, has massively expanded the North’s military capability to pose a credible threat to even distant enemies. After highly provocative tests of Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 ICBMs in 2017, President Trump became the first U.S. leader to hold nuclear talks with a North Korean head of state.

North Korea Missile Milestones
2006 First nuclear test
2017 Tests new ICBMs, alarms Washington
2018 -19 Trump meets Kim for nuclear talks
2020 – 22 Pandemic halts diplomacy; record tests of new missiles, warheads
2023 Tests solid-fuel ICBM with hypersonic warhead

The historic 2018 Singapore Summit saw Kim pledge to work towards denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. Later talks collapsed in 2019 over sanctions relief and lack of steps to reduce Pyongyang’s nuclear capability.

As the world retreated into COVID isolation, North Korea used the diplomatic void to aggressively test missiles designed to penetrate regional missile defenses. With talks still stalled, few expect Kim to slow weapons development any time soon.

What Comes Next?

More Powerful Missiles Expected

Defense analysts warn Pyongyang’s testing of long-range solid missiles and maneuverable warheads will likely only accelerate modernization efforts [11]. North Korea could produce even more powerful solid-fuel rockets this year, as well as submarine-launched ballistic missiles that are harder to detect.

Calls for U.S. Response

Washington faces growing calls to address the North Korean threat which can no longer be ignored. Yet charts a path forward remains unclear [12].

While the White House has condemned “destabilizing actions”, some Republicans argue displays of U.S. force are needed to curb Kim’s behavior. Alternatively, President Biden could pursue working level meetings to revive diplomatic efforts started under Trump [13].

Risk of Miscalculation Rising

With North Korea rapidly expanding capabilities, risks grow that missile launches could trigger unintended military clashes [14]. Seoul has warned of a forceful response should Pyongyang demonstration a nuclear weapon or ICBM again. As North Korean tests threaten stability in the region, the need for renewed diplomacy is increasingly urgent [15].

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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