North Korea launches solid-fuel missile tipped with hypersonic warhead, state media claims

North Korea claims it launched a new solid-fuel, intermediate-range missile tipped with a hypersonic warhead on Monday amid its pursuit of more powerful weapons.

Sunday’s launch was aimed at verifying the reliability of the missile’s solid-fuel engines and the maneuverable flight capabilities of the hypersonic warhead, according to the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). 

KCNA reported the North Korean military said the successfully flight-tested missile was designed to strike U.S. military bases in Guam and Japan, as well as other remote U.S. targets in the region. It was North Korea’s first ballistic test of 2024.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed the launch, saying the missile flew approximately 620 miles before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. 

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Kim Jong Un watching a rocket launch

A TV at Seoul’s Yongsan Railway Station shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting the launch of a Hwasong-18 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile flew 1,002.3 kilometers for 4,415 seconds at a maximum altitude of 6,518.2 km before “accurately” hitting the East Sea, the KCNA said. (KIM Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

KCNA’s report described the test as a success but did not provide specifics. It came a day after South Korean and Japanese militaries detected the launch from a site near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

Lee Sung Joon, spokesperson of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military was analyzing the North’s latest test but declined to elaborate.

A rocket launching

This photo, provided by the North Korean government, shows what it says is a flight test of a new solid-fuel intermediate-range in North Korea on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The launch also comes two months after North Korea claimed to have successfully tested engines for a new solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile.

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Hypersonic weapons are harder to detect from traditional missiles as they are designed to exceed five times the speed of sound. If perfected, such systems could potentially pose a challenge to regional missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability.

North Korea’s existing intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), including the Hwasong-12 that may be able to reach the U.S. military hub of Guam in the Pacific, are powered by liquid-fuel engines, which are fueled up before launch and cannot stay fueled for long.

A photo of a rocket

North Korea confirmed it test-fired a Hwasong-18 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un saying the launch showed what option he would take “when Washington makes a wrong decision.” (KIM Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

More flight tests are likely to come soon and raise the alarm of neighbors. Some experts say North Korea could try to dial up pressure in an election year for Seoul and Washington.

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North Korea has flown the Hwasong-12 IRBMs over Japan three different times since 2017. North Korea also launched its first military reconnaissance satellite in November and aims to launch three more satellites in 2024.

The South’s Defense Ministry demanded the North halt its ballistic testing activities that violate United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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