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Seoul says N.Korea did not test hypersonic missile

N. Korean state media exaggerated performance, maneuverability

This photo, released by North Korea`s official Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 6, 2022, shows what the North claims to be a new hypersonic missile being launched the previous day. (Yonhap)
This photo, released by North Korea`s official Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 6, 2022, shows what the North claims to be a new hypersonic missile being launched the previous day. (Yonhap)
The South Korean military on Friday said North Korea did not test a hypersonic missile, clarifying that the launched projectile was a Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle, or MaRV.

North Korea’s state media on Thursday claimed the country had test-fired a “hypersonic missile” the previous day. 

Pyongyang said the missile made a “120 km lateral movement in the flight distance of the hypersonic gliding warhead from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth and precisely hit a set target 700 km away.”

But South Korea’s Defense Ministry said that North Korean state media appeared to “exaggerate performance including travel range, lateral movement” and maneuverability of the missile launched Wednesday.

The initial evaluation shows that the MaRV traveled at a top speed of around Mach 6 and at an altitude of below 50 kilometers, explaining that the maximum speed of ballistic missiles with a range of more than 500 km generally exceeds Mach 5.

It said the missile’s travel distance had not reached 700 km as North Korea claimed, but Seoul’s military did not share the precise travel distance, citing the necessity of further assessment.

“Our military detected North Korea’s missile through various assets,” the ministry said, adding the South Korean and US intelligence authorities are working on rigorous analysis of missile specifications.

More importantly, the Defense Ministry said North Korea did not launch a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, or HGV.

“Especially, we assess North Korea has yet to reach the technologies for a hypersonic glide vehicle,” the ministry said.

Seoul said the military did not see any technical progress in the latest missile as compared to the Hwasong-8 missile launched months ago in September.

The ministry underscored that South Korea-US military assets are capable of detecting and intercepting the ballistic missile launched Wednesday, in response to concerns the missile could penetrate missile defenses.

Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle
South Korean military officials confirmed the projectile launched Wednesday was a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a MaRV unveiled at a defense exhibition in October.

The officials clarified that the Hwasong-8 is analogous to HGV, but the latest one is MaRV in respect of its shape. The places for testing-firing were different, although both were launched from Chagang Province, in the center-north of the country. 

“The shape of the warhead is not suitable for gliding," a military official said.

"The lift-to-drag ratio of hypersonic glide vehicles should exceed a certain level, but the cylindrical-shaped reentry vehicle (warhead) is not appropriate for gliding because of the low lift-to-drag ratio,” a military official said.

The official said HGVs “glide most part of the entire flight phases at speeds of Mach 5 and higher, but the maximum speed of North Korea’s missile is only Mach 6.

“It cannot be called HGV because the speed drops significantly in the terminal phase.”

The official also refuted the North Korean media’s report on lateral movement and maneuverability.

“The lateral movement usually refers to evasive maneuver,” the official said. “If the North Korean media report on the 120 km lateral movement is correct, North Korea did not make the evasive and zigzag maneuver. Rather, the missile made a circling maneuver because canards (little fins attached to the warhead) have limited maneuverability.”

When asked about the intent behind North Korea’s claim of launching a hypersonic missile, another military official said the report appears to send a message targeting domestic audiences with various goals, including boosting confidence.

In respect of technology, the military officials assessed that Wednesday’s missile launch is to mainly “enhance the accuracy,” supplementing the shortcomings of the existing missile system.

Seoul underscored that the South Korean military has “superior capabilities in terms of quality” including core technologies such as powerful warheads and precise guidance.

By Ji Da-gyum (
Korea Herald Youtube