North Korea paraded its intercontinental ballistic missiles in a massive military display in central Pyongyang on Saturday, with ruler Kim Jong Un looking on with delight as his nation flaunted its increasingly sophisticated military hardware amid rising regional tensions.
Kim did not speak during the annual parade, which celebrates the 1912 birthday of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founding ruler, but a top official warned that the North would stand up to any threat posed by the United States.
The parade, the annual highlight of North Korea’s most important holiday, came amid growing international worries that North Korea may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test or a major missile launch, such as its first flight test of an ICBM capable of reaching US shores.
But if the parade signalled a readiness for war, North Korea has long insisted that its goal is peace — and survival — with the growing arsenal a way to ensure that the government in Pyongyang is not easily overthrown.
Kim, wearing a suit and tie, was greeted Saturday with thunderous — and extensively practiced — applause as he stepped into view on a large podium, clapping to acknowledge the thousands of soldiers and civilians taking part in the parade at Kim Il Sung Square.
The parade, an elaborate display of the state’s immense power, involves tens of thousands of participants, from goose-stepping soldiers to crowds of civilians who have spent weeks perfecting their ability to wave plastic flowers in unison.
For outside military analysts, though, the highlight is the weaponry that the North puts on display.
A series of what appeared to be KN-08 missiles were among the weapons rolled out on trucks. Analysts say the missiles could one day be capable of hitting targets as far as the continental United States, although North Korea has yet to flight test them.
The parade also included large rockets covered by canisters in two different types of transporter erector launcher trucks, or TELs. An official from South Korea’s defence ministry couldn’t immediately confirm whether any of the rockets represented a new type of ICBM.
Kim Dong-yub, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the canisters and trucks suggested that the North was developing technology to “cold launch” ICBMs, ejecting them from the canisters before they ignite. This would allow North Korea to prevent its limited number of ICBM-capable launcher trucks from being damaged during launches and also make the missiles harder to detect after they’re fired, he said. Cold launches would also allow the missiles to be fired from silos.
Kim, the analyst, said it’s likely that North Korea is also developing solid-fuel ICBMs, and that some of the rockets inside the canisters on Saturday might have been prototypes.
Other military hardware at the parade included tanks, multiple rocket launchers and artillery, as well as a solid-fuel missile designed to be fired from submarines. Also on display was a powerful midrange missile that outside analysts call a “Musudan,” and which can potentially reach U.S. air bases in Guam, as well as a new solid-fuel midrange missile that can be fired from land mobile launchers, making them harder to detect before launch.
Kim Jong Un, a 30-something leader who took power in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, emphasises nuclear weapons as the foundation of his national defence strategy. Under his watch, North Korea has aggressively pursued a goal of putting a nuclear warhead on an ICBM capable of reaching the continental United States.