North Korea Plans Hypersonic Prototype, Touts Nuclear Progress

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un highlights defense achievements in an address to his ruling Workers' Party.
Credit: KCTV

SEOUL—North Korea is planning an active year of military technology research, including plans to build a prototype hypersonic glide vehicle, begin production of a military reconnaissance satellite and develop a new UAV, according to North Korean state media.

On Jan. 9, North Korea’s official newspaper, the Rodong-Sinmun, released an annual report, approved by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which summarized the nation’s defense, industrial and scientific achievements in 2020, and set out future goals.

One of the nation’s self-proclaimed nuclear weapons achievements of 2020 was completing the development of a super-large hydrogen bomb as well as a “new ICBM,” the report said. Pyongyang said North Korea’s nuclear arsenal now can accurately hit targets beyond 15,000 km (9,320 mi.). 

Among North Korea’s goals is to complete the final stage of study into Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) technology.

But Jang Young-gun, a professor at Korea Aviation University in Goyang, South Korea, noted the hurdles its northern neighbor will face. “MIRV technology is not only difficult to develop, but also test fire is incredibly difficult,” he said in an interview with “This is because normal trajectory firing is required to prove MIRV technology. So far, North Korean ICBM tests have only performed high-angle trajectories.”

Research to equip a hypersonic glider warhead on a new ballistic missile is complete, the North Korean report said, and the nation will produce a prototype to demonstrate the technology soon. This may refer to a study of mounting a hypersonic glide vehicle on top of a ballistic missile’s rocket motor, akin to the Chinese DF-17.

The report added that design of a new nuclear submarine has been completed and is in the final examination stage, with plans to modernize armaments for its medium-sized submarines.

According to South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo, North Korea is loading submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) on to more than two submarines, including its new “Pukguksong-4A” SLBM. North Korea is designing its first purpose-built nuclear submarine capable of carrying SLBMs.

In addition, North Korea announced that the design of the military reconnaissance satellite has already been completed and will enter the production stage. The country said it also is developing a new UAV capable of flying over 500 km (310 mi.)—far enough that it could likely scout the entire Korean Peninsula.

Among the self-reported achievements of the North Korean military during 2020 is the development of the new ICBM, which has improved end-stage accuracy and greater warhead power.

In terms of conventional weaponry, North Korea’s new tactical ballistic missile, unveiled last year, has enough warhead power to “overwhelm the world,” according to the report. The statement by North Korea may be in response to South Korea’s development of the “Hyunmu-4” conventional warhead, designed to penetrate hardened underground targets.

North Korea also introduced a surface-to-air missile system, a new self-propelled artillery, a new main battle tank and world-class anti-tank missile, the report said.

Kim Minseok

Kim Minseok covers South Korean defense. He has worked as a journalist for South Korean military magazines Military Review and Defense Times. Mr Kim is also a research fellow at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, a think tank.