The missile test was North Korea’s third round of launches in a month. It took place just before North Korea's U.N. Envoy accused the United States and demanded that the Biden administration cease all joint military exercises and the deployments of strategic assets within the region.
North Korea's state media published a photo showing a missile with a cone-shaped payload mounted on it. It was seen soaring through the air in bright orange flames. According to the Korean Central News Agency, the missile passed its first flight test and met all technical requirements including launch stability, maneuverability, and flight characteristics of "detached hypersonic glide warhead".
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea deemed the missile in an early stage of development, and advised that North Korea would need to take "considerable time" before it could be deployed operationally.
The North's announcement was made one day after Japanese and South Korean militaries reported that they had detected North Korea firing a missile in its eastern sea. According to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the launch showed "the destabilizing effect of (North Korea’s) illicit weapon program."
KCNA reported that the North's rubber-stamp parliament had opened a session Tuesday to discuss domestic issues like economic policies and youth education. The report said that the meetings would continue. Experts speculate that the North may use the session as a way to resolve the nuclear diplomacy deadlock, although the state media report didn't mention any comments toward Washington or Seoul.
Kim Jong Un, the leader of the ruling party, named hypersonic gliders, which are launched from rockets before gliding into targets, as part of a wish-list for sophisticated military assets. The new missile was described by KCNA as an important addition of the country's "strategic weaponry", which implies that the system will be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
According to the report, the missile's fuel capsule was stable during the test. This indicates that liquid propellant can be added before launch and kept ready for use for many years. A North Korean official stated that the North intended to expand the system to all of its liquid-fuel missiles.
Because liquid-fuel missiles can be more vulnerable than solid fuel missiles, they must be separately fueled and transported to launch locations using trucks that are visible to enemy satellites or other military equipment.
Kim Dong-yub is a professor at University of North Korean Studies Seoul. He said that North Korea wants to increase the mobility of these weapons.
North Korea offered to improve relations with South Korea's under certain conditions last week. This is apparently a return to its previous pattern of combining weapons demonstrations with peace negotiations to wrest external concessions.
Since February 2019, negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program have been at a standstill. North Korea demanded that the U.S. lift its sanctions, while insisting that it can have nuclear weapons. Officials from the United States have made it clear that the sanctions will remain in place until North Korea takes concrete steps towards denuclearization.
In recent speeches, Kim Jong Un has pledged to increase his nuclear program as an effective deterrent to America. The Biden administration has rejected Washington's offer of talks without conditions. Washington has to abandon its "hostile strategy" first. This term is used by North Korea to describe sanctions and joint U.S.–South Korea military drills that the North regards as an invasion rehearsal.
Kim's sister, Kim's influence, reached out to Seoul twice last Wednesday to say that her country is open to resuming negotiations and taking steps to reconcile if all conditions are met.
Analysts believe that North Korea is using Seoul's desire to engage with the South to press Washington to make concessions on Kim's behalf. Kim continues to try to leverage nuclear weapons to secure crucial economic and security benefits.
North Korea's weapon displays may also have been intended to strengthen domestic unity, as Kim is facing perhaps his most difficult moment in close to a decade of rule. Pandemic border closures could unleash more shock on an economy that has been ravaged by decades of mismanagement and sanctions.
Experts predict that the North will continue to test its tactics in the months ahead, as it ramps up its pressure campaign until China pushes for calm before the Beijing Olympics.