The North Korean government said Wednesday that the “projectile test” it performed this week involved a hypersonic missile – which experts say, if true, could give Pyongyang one of the fastest weapons in the world that could make useless the air defenses of South Korea and Japan.
North Korea’s Academy of Defense Science completed the test of the Hwasong-8 missile from Jagang province, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
The other countries that have developed or are developing hypersonic missiles are the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, India and China.
The successful test was reported on Tuesday, but officials outside of North Korea weren’t certain what type of weapon was tested.
“[The missile] ascertained the stability of the engine as well as of missile fuel ampoule that has been introduced for the first time,” Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
Rockets with hypersonic glide vehicles can theoretically fly as fast as 20 times the speed of sound and are highly maneuverable, making them difficult to shoot down even with the most modern defense systems.
“If true, it means current South Korean and Japanese missile defense systems become close to impotent,” Lionel Fatton, an assistant professor at Webster University in Switzerland and researcher at Meiji University in Japan, said.
KCNA reported that it’s a top priority for North Korea to develop the “strategic” weapon for defense.
Under international law, North Korea is barred from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. The United Nations Security Council, the United States and other governments have sanctioned Pyongyang for conducting such tests in the past.