If geopolitical attention is now more focused on the risks of conflicts in Ukraine or around Taiwan, some theaters with less media exposure are still very active. This is particularly the case for the Korean Peninsula, where the two countries, North and South Korea, have been engaged for several years in intense competition in the field of long-range missiles. The year 2021 was thus marked by numerous tests from both sides., with notable advances in both ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. But it was unmistakably September 28 test of a North Korean ballistic missile equipped with a hypersonic glider which marked the spirits the most in this intense competition, very few experts having anticipated that Pyongyang could have such technology.
On January 5, North Korea carried out a new test of this type, with a ballistic missile of the Hwasong-12 family capped with a hypersonic glider. The missile would have traveled a distance of 700 km, and would have carried out evasive maneuvers at the end of the trajectory using the hypersonic glider. This information, communicated by the official North Korean news agency KCNA, was partly confirmed by the follow-up of the fire by the Japanese radar. On the other hand, these were not able to follow the final trajectory below a certain altitude, not making it possible to confirm or deny the effectiveness of the hypersonic glider. According to the North Korean statements, the shooting would have allowed to test the maneuver capabilities with a lateral maneuver engaged at an altitude of 120 km. Such capabilities allow the system to avoid traditional anti-ballistic missile defenses which are based on an estimate of the ballistic trajectory of the target, and do not take such maneuver capabilities into account.
In addition, the photo published by North Korea illustrating this essay (main illustration) has attracted the attention of many specialists. Not only does it confirm the appearance of the atmospheric reentry warhead conforming to that of a hypersonic glider, but it also shows that these liquid fuel missiles could be used in a particularly flexible manner, with a pre-filling of the tanks before storage, rather than dynamic filling before launch. If this is the case, Pyongyang would have greater flexibility in the use of its strategic weapons, and a much better resilience to the pre-emptive strikes planned by Seoul if necessary to attempt to destroy the missiles on the ground, precisely during this filling phase. tanks.
The combination of hypersonic gliders capable of avoiding anti-missile defenses, and flexible launch systems without in situ filling of missile tanks, would give North Korea a very marked operational advantage over its South Korean neighbor. especially since it does not have nuclear warheads of its own to counterbalance the threat from Pyongyang in this area. If the leader of North Korea, Kim Jung-un, is unlikely to consider nuclear strikes on his neighbor offensively, the mastery of these technologies gives him powerful arguments in the context of potential negotiations with Seoul and especially with Washington, knowing that it would have, de facto, a regional second strike capability that is very difficult to counter.
The fact that North Korea, a country banished by nations and a dying economy, manages to acquire systems capable of thwarting the most advanced anti-ballistic capabilities in service to date, also raises serious questions about the effectiveness of western defense technology planning. Let us recall that to date, none of the 3 great Western "nuclear" nations of the planet, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, has a comparable operational hypersonic weapon system, unlike Russia, China and therefore , North Korea, nor do they have systems capable of protecting themselves against it. What seriously calls into question the dogma of Western technological supremacy, especially as the case of hypersonic weapons is not the only one in which the technological backwardness of the Western powers begins to pose a problem.