S.Korea disputes North's hypersonic claim

·2-min read

South Korea has dismissed Pyongyang's claim to have recently launched a hypersonic missile as an exaggeration, saying it was a normal ballistic missile that could be intercepted.

The assessment is certain to anger neighbouring North Korea.

Seoul has previously avoided publicly disputing North Korea's weapons tests, apparently so as not to aggravate relations.

South Korea's defence ministry said it does not believe North Korea has acquired the technologies needed to launch a hypersonic weapon.

It said in a report that what North Korea fired on Wednesday was a type of ballistic missile that was displayed in October during a weapons exhibition in Pyongyang.

South Korean and US forces could shoot it down, the report said.

The ministry said North Korea's claim the weapon flew 700 kilometres and manoeuvred laterally also appeared to be an exaggeration.

Ministry officials said the claim was probably aimed at a domestic audience to boost public confidence in its missile program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been calling for greater unity and improved weapons development in the face of pandemic-related difficulties.

He has refused to return to disarmament talks with the US and South Korea while maintaining tough anti-virus restrictions.

The UN Security Council has scheduled closed consultations on the North Korean launch and diplomats said members will receive a briefing from Assistant-Secretary-General Khaled Khiari.

Wednesday's launch was North Korea's second claimed hypersonic missile test. The first was in September last year.

Its state media claimed the missile made a 120km lateral movement before precisely hitting a target 700km away.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a crucial challenge to missile defence systems because of their speed and manoeuvrability.

The weapon was on a wish-list of sophisticated military assets Kim unveiled early last year along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuelled long-range missiles and underwater-launched nuclear missiles.

The South Korean report said Wednesday's launch did not show evidence of any technological progress since the September test.

South Korea's military earlier said the missile tested in September was at an early stage of development and would need considerable time before it could be deployed operationally.

South Korea's current liberal government has been pushing hard to improve ties with North Korea. But its appeasement policy has made little progress since a broader nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington collapsed in 2019.

South Korea is to elect a new president in March.

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