North Korean leader Kim Jong Un didn’t speak to the thousands of soldiers and civilians gathered at a massive parade honoring his late grandfather on Saturday, but his expanding array of ballistic missiles made an emphatic statement.
The military hardware displayed at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, named after Kim’s grandfather and North Korea’s late founder, included intercontinental ballistic missiles that could one day be capable of reaching targets as far away as the continental United States, and solid-fuel missiles that could be fired from land and submarines.
The festivities took place amid concerns that North Korea may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test or a major rocket launch, such as its first flight test of an ICBM.
A look at the weapons the North displayed and other notable elements from the parade:
INTERCONTINENTAL BALLISTIC MISSILES
North Korea has a history of marking significant dates with shows of military capability, and it was its ICBMs that were most notable on the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung.
Several KN-08 missiles were rolled out on trucks at the parade. Military analysts say the missiles could one day be capable of hitting targets as far away as the continental United States, although the North has yet to flight test them.
North Korean soldiers also paraded large rockets covered by canisters that were rolled out in two different types of transporter erector launcher trucks, or TELs. An official from South Korea’s Defense Ministry couldn’t immediately confirm whether any of the rockets represented a new type of ICBM.
Kim Dong-yub, a military official-turned-analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the canisters and trucks suggest that the North is 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 TELs from being damaged during launch and also make the missiles harder to detect after they’re fired, he said.
The parade also featured North Korea’s new solid-fuel missiles, which can be fired from land or under the sea. These missiles concern South Korea because they’re harder to detect before launch than liquid-fuel missiles, which need to be filled with fuel before launch and also require fuel trucks and other vehicles that could be spotted by satellites.
Soldiers carried out on trucks North Korea’s “Pukguksong” missile, which can be fired from a submarine. In a test launch in August last year, the missile flew 500 kilometers (310 miles) after being launched from a submarine and crashed into waters near Japan, prompting Kim Jong Un to declare that North Korea had gained “perfect nuclear-attack capability.”
The parade also featured the “Pukguksong-2,” a land-based variant of the submarine-launched missile. It’s called the KN-15 by outside analysts.
In a February test launch, the missile flew 500 kilometers (310 miles) before dropping into international waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. North Korean then fired the missile at a lofted angle for testing purposes. Some analysts say that if the missile were fired at a normal angle, its maximum range could be up to 3,000 kilometers (1,870 miles).
RESCUED FROM PURGE?
A surprise at the parade was the appearance of Kim Won Hong, who was among the senior government officials joining Kim Jong Un at the podium. The South Korean government had said earlier this year that Kim Won Hong was fired from his job as state security minister, presumably over corruption.
An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules, confirmed that the man was Kim Won Hong and said his appearance shows he has been reinstated from a “purge state.” The official said it wasn’t immediately clear what Kim Won Hong’s current role was with North Korea’s government.
South Korea has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea, as information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.
Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide to Kim Jong Un, made a speech at the parade, saying the country is ready to stand up to any threat posed by the United States. He was believed to have been briefly banished to a rural collective farm for re-education in 2015, but apparently regained his political footing during a rare ruling party congress last year.
Since taking power in late 2011, Kim Jong Un has executed or purged a slew of high-level government officials in what the South Korean government has described as a “reign of terror.”