(ATTN: ADDS comments from South Korean, U.S. officials, more info in paras 5, 8-9, 20, 22-23)
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 flight range of the new missile, however, has yet to be verified. The range detected by the South Korean and U.S. intelligence assets is known to be different from what the North announced.
"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.
"South Korea and the U.S. detected the ballistic missile with our intelligence assets and are capable of responding to it," the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Col. Kim Jun-rak told a regular press briefing.
In a separate statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that the North is banned from making any launch using ballistic missile technology under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
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.
The South Korean military 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.
The Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean paper in Japan, said the latest launch event was a "normal activity" conducted under the country's plan to beef up defense capabilities, not a "show of force" targeting a particular entity or aimed at drawing attention.
On Wednesday, South Korea's National Security Council convened an emergency meeting over the missile launch and expressed concerns.
The U.S. State Department condemned the latest missile test as destabilizing to the region and the international community.
"We are consulting closely with our allies as we assess the recent event and as we determine next steps," a department spokesperson said.
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