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N. Korea seeks development of ultra-supersonic weapons

Posted January. 11, 2021 07:23,   

Updated January. 11, 2021 07:23


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made official Pyongyang’s bid to develop ultra-supersonic weapons at the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party. The move apparently indicates the North has made public its bid to secure a “game changer” that could effectively dismantle air defense systems of South Korea and the U.S., including the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system. The North has also disclosed its plan to develop tactical nuclear weapons for striking the South, intensifying its threat on Seoul.

“We have completed research on the development of ultra-supersonic cruising warhead segment that will be applied to new ballistic rockets (ballistic missiles), and are currently making preparation to start pilot production,” Pyongyang said Saturday. An ultra-supersonic missile, which is capable of flying and changing its direction at 6,175 km/h, a speed five times the speed of sound, falls onto the target at high speeds, making it virtually impossible to detect and intercept via a ground radar.

Since the ultra-supersonic missile is difficult to intercept with any of currently available missile defense systems, countries around the Korean Peninsula have been spurring efforts to develop such a missile. Military experts say the development of ultra-supersonic missiles of China and Russia could also pose a direct threat to the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet that are deployed to the Korean Peninsula in the event of an armed conflict.

Watchers inside and outside the South Korean military judge that advanced technology required for the development of a warhead for ultra-supersonic missiles could have been introduced to North Korea through China and Russia. Pyongyang already test-fired in 2019 a short-range ballistic missile (KN-23), dubbed the “North Korean version of Iskander,” and performed “pull-up maneuver” through which the missile ascends and descends at a speed of Mach 6-7. Even though ultra-supersonic warhead is generally mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile, it is more likely the Stalinist country will apply and materialize with a short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles first.

Kyu-Jin Shin newjin@donga.com