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At exhibition showing off nuclear arms, N. Korea displays apparent new weapon

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, speaks in front of what the North says is an intercontinental ballistic missile displayed at an exhibition of weapons systems in Pyongyang on Oct. 11, 2021. (AP/Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
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TOKYO — North Korea showcased its latest nuclear and military weaponry during a "self-defense" exhibition on Monday, including a version of the "hypersonic" weapon that Pyongyang said it tested last month.

Officials displayed a variety of weapons at the event, including intercontinental ballistic missiles and a new long-range cruise missile, according to state media photos released Tuesday. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a speech that the country was building up its self-defense capabilities according to its military plan and “not discussing war with anyone,” state media reported.

Standing beside North Korea's largest missiles Oct. 11, Kim Jong Un said his country's weapons development is necessary in the face of U.S. policies. (Video: Reuters)

Among the weapons on display was the Hwasong-8, which North Korea claims to be a “hypersonic” glide vehicle and the latest advance in its expanding weapons program.

Hypersonic weapons fly at low altitudes and are much more maneuverable than traditional ballistic missiles, which makes them difficult to track and intercept. They are some of the latest warfare technology being developed by major military powers such as China, Russia and the United States.

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A new photo of the apparent hypersonic weapon released Tuesday offers a glimpse into North Korea’s ambitions to develop its hypersonic weapons program, which South Korean officials have said appears to still be in its early stages. North Korea had previously released just one photo, which showed a silhouette of the hypersonic glide vehicle midflight.

While the new photo shows that North Korea may have developed a viable aerodynamic design, the weapon’s in-flight capabilities remain unclear, experts said.

The photo provided a much clearer look at the apparent weapon, though Pyongyang might have displayed a mock-up, said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Even though the shape is right, it’s difficult to ascertain how it’d actually perform in flight.”

Panda added that the testing of hypersonic gliders requires specialized facilities, including hypersonic wind tunnels, which are not known to exist in North Korea.

‘Two pedals’: North Korea sends conflicting messages with missile tests and hints of outreach

Vipin Narang, a nuclear security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the missile had a similar look to the Chinese hypersonic glider, the DF-17.

“It’s very hard to tell publicly if the hypersonic missile is legit or how it performs. The intelligence community would have likely tried to characterize the [hypersonic glide vehicle] when it was tested, but the pictures released tonight are what North Korea wants us to see,” Narang said.

In recent weeks, North Korea has conducted several missile tests designed to showcase milestone developments in its military and nuclear weapons program.

Kim said in his speech Monday that Pyongyang is working toward developing defense capabilities in the face of growing military ambitions by South Korea and the United States, which raises “the urgency to further strengthen ourselves.”

“More generally, Kim wants to show us that his deterrent is not only ‘complete,’ but that he continues to work on improving survivability and penetrability against both [South Korea] and the U.S., like ‘normal’ nuclear powers do,” Narang said.

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