(ATTN: ADDS analysis, background info in paras 8, 14, 17-18)
By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Thursday that it has successfully conducted a test-firing of a hypersonic missile a day earlier, three months after it first showcased the new weapons system.
On Wednesday, South Korea's military said the North fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile toward the East Sea from the northern province of Jagang.
The missile made a "120 km lateral movement" from the initial launch azimuth and "precisely hit a set target 700 km away," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. It did not disclose the speed of the projectile.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not attend the firing.
"The test launch clearly demonstrated the control and stability of the hypersonic gliding warhead which combined the multi-stage gliding jump flight and the strong lateral movement," the KCNA said.
Hypersonic missiles usually fly at a speed of at least Mach 5, five times the speed of sound or 6,125 km per hour, giving little time for enemies to respond.
The North conducted the first test-firing of the "hypersonic" missile Hwasong-8 in September last year, though it's known to have flown at a speed of around Mach 3 at that time.
According to KCNA photos, the shape of the warhead of the missiles fired in September and this week were slightly different, a possible indication the North is developing two different types of hypersonic missiles or has improved the first one.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in September the new missile appears to be in the early stages of development and would require "considerable time for actual deployment."
The latest firing confirmed the "reliability of fuel ampoule system under the winter weather conditions," the KCNA said, apparently referring to a container of liquid fuel to reduce the preparation time for a missile launch.
Compared with conventional missiles that require hours of liquid fuel injection before firing, the ampoule would allow the fuel to be stored for months before immediate use, experts say.
The hypersonic missile development is "the most important core task out of the five top priority tasks for the strategic arms sector" under the North's five-year plan, the KCNA said.
"The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernizing strategic armed force of the state put forward at the 8th Party Congress," it said.
Experts say the North is likely to continue testing the new weapons system given the fact no ranking official attended the latest test-firing.
Wednesday's firing came less than a week after North Korea wrapped up a key party meeting and vowed to continue bolstering its military capabilities, citing "the international situation getting instable day after day."
North Korea has remained unresponsive to calls for dialogue since the 2019 Hanoi summit with the United States collapsed without a deal, demanding Washington first retract what the North calls "double standards" and "hostile policy" against its regime.
On Wednesday, South Korea's National Security Council convened an emergency meeting over the missile launch and expressed concerns.
The U.S. condemned the latest missile test as a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions that poses a "threat" to its neighbors and the international community.
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