North Korea says it's launched a third hypersonic missile, this time reaching Mach 10

South Korea piqued as FAA grounds west coast aircraft


North Korean state-sponsored media has said it launched a third hypersonic missile on Tuesday, hitting a target at sea 1,000km (621 miles) away. According to news agency KCNA, President Kim Jong Un attended the test-fire.

"Toward daybreak, the Juche weapon representing the power of the DPRK roared to soar into sky, brightening the dawning sky and leaving behind it a column of fire, under the supervision of Kim Jong Un," reported KCNA's Pyongyang Times.

The publication claimed the hypersonic missile programme is an effort to bolster the country's war deterrent and this test-fire was a final verification of weapon system's technical specifications. The news outlet said the missile "made glide jump flight from 600km area before making a 240km corkscrew manoeuvring from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth" with "superior manoeuvrability."

North Korea's first hypersonic missile was fired about three months ago and its second last week, although there was reasonable doubt regarding whether last week's test was of a hypersonic missile, or simply a ballistic one.

South Korea disputed North Korea's claim that the 5 January missile hit Mach 5, saying it was probably only Mach 3.

While South Korea was generally dismissive of the 5 January test, the most recent one has grabbed its attention. Although South Korean media and government officials have refrained from categorising the missile as "hypersonic," South Korea's Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) said it flew more than 700km to a maximum altitude of 60km at a top speed of Mach 10. The JCS referred to the missile test as an "improvement," referring to the missile's performance rather than its geopolitical ramifications.

South Korea's Blue House, the presidential executive office otherwise known as Cheongwadae, tweeted in Korean:

After receiving a report on the results of the NSC Standing Committee held today in relation to North Korea's missile launch, President Moon Jae-in said, "I am concerned about North Korea's successive missile test launches ahead of the presidential election. Each ministry should take necessary measures so that people do not become uneasy."

North Korea is banned from launching ballistic missiles under UN Security Council resolutions. The European Union yesterday called on the DPRK to comply with the ban and "refrain from all actions that undermine the environment for pursuing diplomacy and dialogue."

Officials from China, which launched a hypersonic missile at Mach 5 last year, have also commented. Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a press conference Tuesday "all sides should avoid jumping to conclusions or overacting," and that the Korean Peninsula was at an "important and sensitive stage."

In light of the test-fire, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all aircraft on the United States west coast for 15 minutes.

The Register asked the FAA if the aircraft grounding was related to the missile, but the agency declined to comment further. However, Reuters reported that a US official said the action was taken "due to initial reports of events in the Indo-Pacific region."

US press secretary Jen Psaki neither denied nor confirmed the assertion that the FAA action was in relation to North Korea in an 11 January press briefing and said it was done "out of an abundance of caution."

"While we've assessed that this event did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory or to our allies, the launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK's illicit weapons program," said Psaki.

"The launch is in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. It poses a threat to the DPRK's neighbors and the international community." ®

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