S. Korea calls N.K. claim of hypersonic missile launch ‘exaggerated’

January 7, 2022

South Korea’s defense ministry said Friday that North Korea’s claim that it has successfully test-fired a hypersonic missile this week appears to be “exaggerated,” assessing Pyongyang has yet to secure technologies for such an advanced flight vehicle.

Its initial analysis has found that the missile, launched Wednesday, traveled less than 700 kilometers at a top speed of Mach 6 — six times the speed of sound — at an altitude of below 50 km, the ministry said.

Its assessment is different from Thursday’s report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency that the missile “precisely hit a set target 700 km away” and made a “120 km lateral movement.”

“The North’s claim about the missile’s capabilities, such as its operational range and lateral movement, appears to be exaggerated,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Especially, we assess the North has yet to reach the technologies for a hypersonic flight vehicle,” it added, saying the South and the United States are still conducting a detailed analysis for additional information.

An official at a ministry-affiliated defense agency said the North’s missile in the latest test met the speed criteria of Mach 5, but it does not fit into any of the two widely recognized hypersonic missile categories — the hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) and the hypersonic cruise missile (HCM).

“Any ballistic missile with a range of longer than 500 km can fly at Mach 5, meaning all ballistic missiles with such an operational range can be classified as hypersonic ones,” the official told reporters, requesting anonymity.

“But the general consensus among major countries regarding the definition of hypersonic missiles is that it should be either the HGV or HCM. Given the North’s footage, its latest missile was neither,” he added.

Moreover, the official noted the missile, which the North claimed to have tested in September, had the appearance of an HGV, while the latest one appears to be just a general ballistic missile.

The ministry also pointed out that the latest missile launch does not represent new technological progress compared with the North’s first-known test of a hypersonic missile in September last year.

“We judge the missile was one of the different missiles first unveiled at the Defense Development Exhibition held (in the North) in October 2021,” the official said.

The ministry reiterated that the allies believe their combined assets are “capable of detecting and intercepting” the North’s latest missile while boasting of the South’s “qualitatively superior” missile capabilities.

The remarks came amid growing concerns that the North’s push for a hypersonic missile appears aimed at dodging the South Korea-U.S. combined missile defense shield and putting the allies’ key bases on the Korean Peninsula and beyond within striking range.