North Korea fired a short-range missile eastward into the sea on Tuesday, but details about the launch were scarce. Pyongyang released some information Wednesday about the new hypersonic missile, the Hwasong-8, through state media. The weapon was among the top five priorities that North Korea had announced earlier this year as a part of its five-year military development program.
The South Korean military said Pyongyang appeared to still be in the early stages of development of its hypersonic weapons system, and said that South Korea and the United States are currently capable of detecting and intercepting this missile.
Pyongyang released one photo in its state media announcement. While there is a lot of hype around these new systems, it is unclear whether they are a game-changer in the nuclear arms race, said Shannon Bugos, co-author of a new report on hypersonic weapons by the Arms Control Association. She warned against knee-jerk reactions that would overstate the capacity of the missile.
“We don’t know a lot yet [about the North Korean technology], but on the whole, there is evidence to suggest that hypersonic weapons aren’t necessarily a military revolution, but rather an evolutionary development that will not fundamentally change the nature of conflict,” she said.
“One flight test is far from enough to successfully develop this kind of technology,” said Vann Van Diepen, a former weapons analyst for the National Intelligence Program. “For them, lauding the technical achievement this represents is a big part of what’s going on — at least at this stage.”
Another development tucked into North Korea’s statement on Wednesday is an announcement that Pyongyang has introduced “ampoules,” or canisters of liquid fuel prepared in factories and sent to military units for use in missiles, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.
That suggests North Korea is working to reduce the time needed to launch missiles in case of an attack, he said.
“It means they’re much faster to launch,” Lewis said. “That’s a big deal.”