North Korean state media reported this week that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un attended the country's newest advanced hypersonic missile test, the first time the leader has attended such a launch in over a year.
The launch, which was verified by Japan and South Korea's military services on Monday, was the second in less than a week, following another hypersonic platform test on Wednesday that included maneuverable boost-glide vehicle technology.
Kim Jong Un urges military scientists to accelerate efforts
In September, North Korea conducted its most recent hypersonic weapon test. Since then, it has boasted of "successful results" as it competes with China, Russia, and the United States in a global arms race.
"Carried out with the objective of finally validating the overall technical features of the designed hypersonic weapon system," according to the latest demonstration. Since the governing Workers' Party's Eighth Congress in January of last year, the creation of such a weapon has been a top priority. However, Kim was not included in any public accounts of missile tests during 2021, including the testing of a new cruise missile, a train-based ballistic missile, a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and the first hypersonic weapons test, in what looked to be a first.
Top military officials, including Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee and a member of the ruling party's politburo presidium, oversaw the latest launches, according to state media, at a time when Kim had reduced his public appearances in general, possibly due to COVID-19 concerns or health issues related to a significant weight loss that has alarmed even his own citizens, as per News Week via MSN.
The alleged launch was detected on Tuesday by officials in South Korea and Japan, prompting criticism from governments around the world and a statement of concern from the UN Secretary-General.
The second launch of a "hypersonic missile" in less than a week reaffirmed Kim's New Year's resolution to strengthen the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when negotiations with South Korea and the US have stagnated.
It was Kim Jong Un's first ceremonial presence to a missile launch since March 2020, and he pushed military scientists to "further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country's strategic military might, both in quality and quantity, and further modernize the army," according to CNA.
North Korea's leadership would have been enraged by South's assessment
The North's leadership would have been enraged by South Korea's appraisal of last week's launch, according to Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, and may have planned a succession of tests to make its threat real.
Hypersonic missiles are categorized as a high priority mission for strategic weapons in the current five-year plan, and the Hwasong-8 was tested in September of last year. Experts estimate that North Korea is still years away from developing a true hypersonic system.
Pyongyang stated in 2021 that new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a long-range cruise missile, and a train-launched weapon had all been successfully tested. In 2021, North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, as well as a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon, and a hypersonic warhead.
Pyongyang's claims of hypersonic flight have been questioned by South Korea. Last week's test was simply a minor advance over the regime's existing ballistic missiles. According to Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, a second hypersonic test would be conducted soon after the first might imply that last week's launch was a failure, Daily Mail reported.