The CNN video Experts on what North Korea's series of missile tests may mean summarizes several tests of different "flying objects" including (apparently) two hypersonic missiles or at least maneuverable warheads (BBC: North Korea successfully tested hypersonic missile, says report).

As pointed out in comments this is a CNN graphic and so I can't assert it as fact, and ground and satellite-based tracking data is not likely to be public information, but it had to come from somewhere with some basis.

From the video (my transcription):

North Korea has launched a salvo of six ballistic missiles in less than two weeks

  • On January 5th, what Pyong Yang calls a "hypersonic missile" (North Korea, China, Russia, Ocean)
  • Another "hypersonic missile" on January 11th (North Korea, China, Russia, Ocean)
  • Two ballistic missiles fired from a train on January 14th (North Korea, China, North Korea, Ocean)
  • And two tactical guided missiles fired early Monday morning (January 17th) (North Korea, Ocean)

The map shown in the CNN report shows several flights over both China and Russia, and over China alone.

Question: Does North Korea get permission to test-fly experimental weapons over China and Russia?

screenshot from the CNN video "Experts on what North Korea's series of missile tests may mean" https://youtu.be/toPq4H_oy2M

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    Are these border crossings totally true from a top down 2D view point? Or are they an artefact of trying to mix in altitude/ballistic arc info on a 2D projection? For example, do you think the Pyongyang #4 test first headed out on about a 30° NNE heading before forking to 95° E on Jan 17? Or did it follow a straight line on about 60 ENE heading, with the addition of an arc to signify altitude? Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 0:48
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica yes a CNN graphic isn't the best source. I have adjusted the wording to make sure I don't premise my question strictly on it. The standard is to plot the ground track of the trajectory and since CNN probably doesn't have ballistic missile tracking capability themselves, presumably they would be using ground track data from somewhere else. But I could certainly be wrong about that.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 1:13
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    @nick012000: Those are certainly not great circle segments — they’re much too tightly curved for that latitude. Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 14:12
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    @nick012000 The curves appear to be an attempt to show the "skip" behaviour apparently expected from that type of missile, confirming speculation that the graphic is providing an oblique rather than an overhead view: of the missile paths if not the underlying territories. Note that the graphic posted below by ItalianPhilosophers4Monica shows the impact point of the Jan 10th (?) test to be much further South. Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 15:22
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    @nick012000 Hum, that's what I said... Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 19:10

2 Answers 2


Doubt it. CNN's map is most likely projecting a ballistic arc to give the reader a sense of the altitude.

Russia and China are at least theoretically on board with suppressing North Korea's missile tests so it would be highly embarrassing if NK flew over their territory: either they didn't know about it and were disrespected. Or else they knew and acquiesced in it.

Seems highly probable they'd tell the North Koreans to correct to stay just within their own borders.

This kind of stuff, flying gear over someone's territory, is usually not taken lightly at all.

To quote my own comment:

Are these border crossings totally true from a top down 2D view point? Or are they an artefact of trying to mix in altitude/ballistic arc info on a 2D projection? For example, do you think the Pyongyang #4 test first headed out on about a 30° NNE heading before forking to 95° E on Jan 17? Or did it follow a straight line on about 60 ENE heading, with the addition of an arc to signify altitude?

BTW, if they indeed tested a hypersonic missile, as opposed to a straight out ballistic missile, then it is possible that it would show significant heading correction and that would show as a true wandering path. That seems to have the case in at least 1 test.

Says NK (about one of tests):

"The hypersonic glide flight combat unit separated from the launched missile, made an upward glide from 600 km (372 miles) and performed a strong turning maneuver of 240 km (149 miles) from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth, and hit the set target in the 1,000 km (621 miles) water area," the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday morning.

"Through this final test launch, the excellent maneuverability of the hypersonic glide combat unit was more clearly confirmed," KCNA said.

For example, this is the Jan 10th test info released by Japan.

Looks very different, as it is just a heading vector.

enter image description here

p.s. Here's a site which claims to make all sorts of distinctions about the flight pathAnalysis of the 11 January 2022 Hypersonic Missile Test of the DPRK. There again, there doesn't seem to be an actual crossing into Russian/Chinese territory.

See : Figure 3. The red line shows the actual flight path; the line below the red line shows the projection of the flight path on earth. Image: KCNA"

And they had this to say:

In ballistic missile tests, the DPRK often uses highly lofted trajectories, which enable ballistic missiles to reach the desired speed while preventing them from overflying other countries. The turning maneuver seems to have served similar purposes in the testing of HGVs.

BTW, KCNA stands for Korean Central News Agency, i.e. NK "news".

  • What distinguishes hypersonic weapons from ballistic weapons is their ability to maneuver and change direction mid-flight; they use "thin air" at high altitude and aerodynamic surfaces to change their direction without using propulsion. They are basically gliders (albeit nonstandard). So just because a spartan Japanese graphic has an arrow we can't conclude that this particular (allegedly) hypersonic vehicle maintained a ballistic trajectory and didn't have a curvy ground track.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 1:17
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    @uhoh I agree, which is why I added that bit of disclaimer as well. Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 1:19
  • It may be reading too much into the graphic, but the major axis of the landing ellipse not being aligned to the downrange direction of the red arrow also suggests that one or more substantial turns were made in the ground track.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 23:48

Italian Philosophers 4 Monica explained the issue of map projections, ground tracks, etc. Let me add:

  • Nations are sovereign over their airspace (e.g. here).
  • Nations are not sovereign over outer space (e.g. here).
  • The border between the two is generally held to be at orbital altitude, but details are unclear.

An overflight of a ballistic missile, not in orbit but at orbital altitude, might not require any permission. An engine malfunction after the launch could lower such a trajectory into sovereign airspace, however.

  • Thanks; whether they need to or not is certainly an important, but separate question; here I'd like to know if they did or do.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 8:38
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    Though, these being test missiles, they likely weren't armed with warheads, so the damage caused by a landing would be minimal, and the relevant regions of China and Russia are both rather sparsely populated. Not saying it wouldn't have been an incident had one of these crashed in those countries, but it probably wouldn't have been a mass-casualty event. Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 14:54
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    True that spaceflight is not the same as atmospheric flight and I was a bit glib about that +1. But even instances of space flight aren't always welcome: these are not satellites or civilian crafts but weapon prototypes and last the hypersonic missiles do stay in the atmosphere. So it would be somewhere between a military overflight a la U2 and a civilian satellite in space in its provocation and both Russia or China could react like Japan did, except they have a lot more actual leverage over NK if they chose to be angry. Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 19:16
  • @DarrelHoffman China is famous for dropping its own spent 1st stage rocket bodies on sparsely populated areas of China, toxic propellants and all (not just kerosene and liquid oxygen). So they seem to agree with you about the minimal-ness of dropping stuff on land; intentional or not.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 23:51

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