North Korea unveils ‘record’ number of ICBMs at military parade
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un oversaw a major military parade showcasing a record number of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles, state media reported Thursday, including what analysts said was possibly a new solid-fuelled ICBM.
The parade on Wednesday to mark the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea’s armed forces featured fireworks, military bands and uniformed soldiers marching in unison to spell out “2.8” — the date of the celebration — and “75”, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Kim attended the parade with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and daughter Ju Ae, a video on state media showed. He wore the black coat and fedora combination favoured by his grandfather, North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il Sung.
Images showed Kim flanked by his top generals in Pyongyang’s central Kim Il Sung Square, saluting as troops and missile units paraded past while patriotic music played.
The weapons on show included at least 10 of the North’s largest Hwasong-17 ICBMs, as well as vehicles apparently designed to carry a solid-fuelled ICBM, Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported.
North Korea has long sought to develop a solid-fuel ICBM because such missiles are easier to store and transport, are more stable and quicker to prepare for launch, and thus harder for the United States to detect and destroy pre-emptively.
KCNA said the crowd broke into “enthusiastic cheers” when the ICBMs appeared in the square, and that the parade also featured “tactical nuclear weapons operation units”.
North Korea stages military parades to mark important holidays and events and are closely monitored by observers for clues about the reclusive regime’s progress on its banned ballistic and nuclear weapons.
The parade showcased the “tremendous nuclear strike capability of the DPRK”, KCNA said, referring to North Korea by its official name.
Commercial satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies at 10:05 pm (1305 GMT) on Wednesday night showed a large North Korean flag and thousands of people assembled at Kim Il Sung square.
‘Full-fledged nuclear power’
Analysts said the scale and scope of the weaponry on display showed advances that represented a challenge to the United States.
“They’ve shown more ICBMs in the latest parade than they’ve ever shown before, consistent with a longstanding directive from Kim Jong Un on mass producing nuclear weapons and delivery systems,” US-based analyst Ankit Panda told AFP.
This is an issue, he said, because Washington has planned its homeland missile defence system to deal with a “limited” missile threat from North Korea.
“North Korea has now demonstrated that their nuclear forces are far from ‘limited’,” Panda said.
Other analysts said Pyongyang was sending a clear message by parading more of Kim’s most advanced Hwasong-17 missiles.
“This is North Korea trying to declare itself a full-fledged nuclear power,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told AFP.
“Kim Jong-un let North Korea’s expanding tactical and long-range missile forces speak for themselves.”
Pyongyang’s state media had for years never mentioned Kim’s children — Seoul’s spy agency believes he has three with his wife Ri — but he appeared with his daughter Ju Ae at an intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November last year.
The 10-year-old has since appeared alongside her father at several high-profile events, most recently a banquet on Tuesday to mark the army’s founding anniversary.
Analysts say she is the equivalent of a North Korean “princess” and that her appearances with her father could indicate she is his anointed successor.
North Korea has held four night-time military parades in recent years, including the latest on Wednesday.
The parade comes after North Korea vowed to expand and intensify military drills to ensure its readiness for war. This followed a record-breaking year of weapons tests, including firing its most advanced ICBM.
Kim recently called for an “exponential” increase in Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, including mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterstrikes.