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North Korea fires hypersonic missile, officially kicks off an arms race with Seoul and Tokyo

Photo by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows Kim Jong Un, North Korean leader at the eighth Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang (KCNA/Handout via Xinhua/IANS)

North Korea claimed on Wednesday that it has successfully tested a hypersonic gliding missile named Hwasong-8. The news was announced to the world by the State media.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that Tuesday's launch was of "great strategic significance". It added that this launch was one of the five most important new weapons being developed by the country.

KCNA said that the launch from Jagang province "confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile", along with its "guiding manoeuvrability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead" and the engine.

This was the third missile launch by the nuclear-armed nation in the past fortnight, the earlier ones being a cruise missile and a train-launched missile.

The Tuesday launch had been detected by Japan and South Korea but they had refrained from making a comment on the kind of missile that was launched. The South Korean media did say that the launch showed "different flight features" from previous launches and President Moon Jae-in wanted a "comprehensive analysis" of the event.

Hypersonic missiles are faster than ordinary ones, making them harder to detect and intercept. 

The recent series of missile tests by Pyongyang, including one from a train last week, are banned by the UN. It also is under sanctions for testing nuclear weapons. The recent tests have been criticised not just by Seoul and Tokyo but also by the UN and the US.

Aided by China, North Korea has been forging ahead with enhancing its weapons’ capabilities, setting off competition with South Korea and Japan.

Only yesterday, South Korea launched its third indigenous submarine. It also conducted a submarine launch ballistic missile (SLBM) last week. It has also begun work on a home-made aircraft carrier with plans to buy the American stealth F-35 jets.

Japan plans to upgrade its navy with US support and procure more missiles.

The two Koreas have set off their weapon systems amidst a call for peace talks and to also formally declare an end to the 1950-1953 Korean War.