The big news is not that North Korea’s newly developed missile is supersonic, but that it will have a glider.
On Tuesday this week, North Korea’s nuclear power announced that it had conducted a missile test using a newly developed hypersonic missile. The Hwasong-8 is likely to be a ballistic missile that uses the Hwasong-12 medium-range long-range missile body and engine, and a single stage with a separate warhead. Halvor Kibe, a nuclear researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI), told Netavisen.
There are many indications that the new hypersonic missile, which is at least five times faster than the speed of sound, could be equipped with nuclear warheads.
It has a purported glider instead of the usual warhead. The missile will be able to carry a nuclear warhead, but it is not certain that it will play only such a role. North Korea has more missiles than nuclear warheads, so most missiles have enough conventional warheads, Kibe says.
– This is the same news
Kibe says that ballistic missile warheads usually fall freely to the ground in a predictable trajectory.
– This means that they can be intercepted by missile defense systems if you can follow them with radar. With a glider, you can alternatively change course on the part of the flight that is inside the atmosphere. Kibe stresses that the news here is not that the missile is hypersonic, but that it should have a glider.
According to experts, some hypersonic gliders can fly, in theory, 20 times the speed of sound. CNN I’ve spoken to them, which makes dropping them nearly impossible.
FFI researcher Kippe notes that all ballistic missiles with a range of a few hundred kilometers fly supersonic.
– But only in recent years have countries such as Russia, China and North Korea begun to install gliders on these planes. The United States is also developing hypersonic gliders. The point is just to make cutting it difficult, says the researcher at the foreign financial institution.
North Korea constantly asserts that it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from its archenemy, the United States. Kibe says the Americans have missile defense systems in South Korea, Japan, and at sea, among other things, and that North Korea is doing its part to ensure its missiles have a chance to penetrate those systems.
– If that’s true, it could change the balance of power
Analysts CNN spoke with say that North Korea, which has access to hypersonic missiles by glider, would be able to alter the entire military balance of power in the region.
“If this is true, it means that the current missile defense systems of South Korea and Japan will be almost incapacitated,” Lionel Fatone told CNN.
Fatone is a senior lecturer at Webster University in Switzerland and a researcher at Meiji University in Japan.
“A hypersonic missile with a nuclear warhead that can defeat advanced missile defense systems would be a critical turning point,” former US Defense Department official Drew Thompson told CNN.
But wanting to have it and actually having it are two very different things, he says.
– Shorter response time
North Korea itself has used the term “strategic” when describing its new missile. Experts believe that the use of “strategic” indicates that the missile possesses a nuclear weapons capability.
The missile test in North Korea by no means passed the Western House. The United States, Britain and France are said to have taken the initiative to hold meetings of the UN Security Council on Thursday, where the topic is precisely the test of a new North Korean missile.
Another point that has not received much attention after North Korea’s recent missile test is that they now state that all of their liquid-fueled ballistic missiles will eventually use technology that makes it possible to refuel before they are deployed, Kibe says.
– This means they get response times of a few minutes versus the current situation, where in some cases it can take over an hour to refuel and get ready to go. It’s also about survival, but not against missile defense systems. The nuclear researcher says the missiles are vulnerable to air attacks when they are equipped and refueled in the open air.
Six nuclear test explosions
North Korea has previously conducted six nuclear tests, but it is not at all certain that the North Koreans will be able to successfully install a nuclear warhead on a missile and at the same time deliver the nuclear charge to the intended target.
North Korea probably has dozens of nuclear weapons. Some estimates suggest that nuclear power may have between 30 and 40 nuclear weapons or more. But nothing has been officially confirmed.
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