North Korea Releases First Photo of 'Hypersonic' Glide Vehicle Missile Launch

North Korea has released the first photo of what was claimed to be the country's debut hypersonic glide vehicle missile test a day after the armed forces of Japan, South Korea and the United States reported the launch of an unidentified projectile.

Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee, reported Tuesday (Wednesday local time) that North Korea's Academy of National Defense Science "conducted a test launch of the newly developed hypersonic missile 'Hwasong-8'" in Toyang-ni, Ryongrim County, Chagang Province.

Hypersonic speeds reach or exceed Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, and glide vehicles offer enhanced maneuverability that would mark yet another advancement for nuclear-armed North Korea's growing arsenal of weapons the country argues were purely deterrence purposes.

"In the first test-launch, national defence scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile in the active section and also its technical specifications including the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead," the official Korean Central News Agency reported in an accompanying write-up.

"It also ascertained the stability of the engine as well as of missile fuel ampoule that has been introduced for the first time," it added.

The term ampoule suggested that the missile was liquid-fueled through the use of a pre-filled canister inserted prior to launch.

The existing family of Hwasong missiles extend across the short-range Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6, the medium-range Hwasong-7 and Hwasong-9, the intermediate-range Hwasong-12 and the intercontinental-range Hwasong-13, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15. The latter three are believed capable of reaching the continental U.S., marking a major escalation in North Korea's military prowess.

And while the Hwasong-8 was believed to have a far shorter range, such a weapon equipped with a glide vehicle could prove more difficult for defense systems to intercept.

Decorated military official Pak Jong Chon, who serves as secretary of the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee and a member of the ruling party's politburo presidium, was said to have observed the launch as he had the previous two. He "mentioned the strategic importance of the development of the hypersonic missile and its deployment for action" and "also noted the military significance of turning all missile fuel systems into ampoules," according to the Korean Central News Agency.

"He stressed the need for all the defence science research teams and workers of the munitions industry to rise up with higher spirit to implement the decisions made at the 8th Party Congress true to our Party's policy of prioritizing defence science and technology and thus make greater successes in the work of increasing the country's defence capabilities thousand-fold," according to the outlet.

North, Korea, hypersonic, missile, Hwasong-8, test
An image published September 28 depicts what North Korea state-run media referred to as the "test launch of the newly developed hypersonic missile 'Hwasong-8.'" Rodong Sinmun

The Japanese, South Korean and U.S. militaries had announced later Monday that a suspected North Korean launch, the third this month, had been detected.

"Our military detected a projectile which was fired from Moopyonri area, Jagang province in NK to east, 6:40 today and it was assumed a short range missile," a spokesperson for South Korea's Ministry of National Defense told Newsweek at the time. "ROK and U.S. intelligence authority is analyzing the missile closely in consideration of detected data."

The Japanese Defense Ministry said in a statement that the missile was launched eastward and that no damage had been reported. Still, the activity was condemned.

"A series of North Korean actions, including the repeated launches of ballistic missiles, threaten the peace and security of Japan and the region, and are a serious issue for the entire international community, including Japan," the Japanese Defense Ministry said at the time.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command confirmed the news as well and it too weighed in on the Pentagon's position toward such activities.

"We are aware of the missile launch and are consulting closely with our allies and partners," INDOPACOM said in a statement sent to Newsweek. "While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK's illicit weapons program. The U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad."

Shortly after reports of the latest launch emerged Monday, North Korean permanent representative to the United Nations Kim Song defended his country's weapons activities as a necessary response to the military build-up and joint exercises pursued by the U.S. and South Korea.

"Given that the U.S. and South Korean military alliance increased military threats against the DPRK, nobody can deny the righteous right self-defense for the DPRK to develop, test, manufacture and produce the weapon systems equivalent to the ones which are possessed or being developed by them," Kim said during his scheduled address to the United Nations General Assembly.

He dismissed restrictions imposed by the U.N. Security Council on North Korea's missile development.

"The U.N. Security Council does not say a single word about the reckless arms buildup and war criminal actions by specific countries such as the US and its foreign forces," Kim Song said. "It instead that finds fault with the just self-defense measures of the DPRK at every chance."

"This is tell-tale evidence," he argued, "that the U.N. does represent the interests of the broader spectrum of the international community but rather degenerates into a small room for a privileged few."

North Korea has remained in a technical state of war with the U.S. and South Korea. The hostility is rooted in the Cold War and the outbreak of a 1950s conflict that saw North Korea backed by China and the Soviet Union, and South Korea supported by a U.S.-led U.N. coalition.

An ambitious peace effort among Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington was launched in 2018 and saw unprecedented levels of direct diplomacy. The process ultimately unraveled in the following years, however, and tensions have returned with only occasional glimpses of hope emerging, always preconditioned by North Korea calling on the U.S. and South Korea to first remove their "hostile policy" toward the elusive, militarized state.