‘Record’ number of ICBMs unveiled at NKorea parade
SEOUL: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a major military parade showcasing a record number of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), state media reported on Thursday, including what analysts said was possibly a new solid-fueled ICBM.
The parade marking the 75th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army featured fireworks, military bands and uniformed soldiers marching in unison to spell out “2.8” — the day of the celebration — and “75,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Wearing the black coat and fedora combination favored by his grandfather and North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il Sung, Kim attended the February 8 parade with his wife Ri Sol Ju and daughter Ju Ae, state media photographs showed.
Images showed the top leader standing flanked by his top generals in the capital Pyongyang’s central Kim Il Sung Square, saluting as troops and missile units parade past.
The weapons on show included at least 10 of the country’s largest Hwasong-17 ICBMs, plus vehicles apparently designed to carry a solid-fueled ICBM, Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported.
North Korea has long sought to develop such an ICBM, which could help make its nukes harder to detect and destroy.
When the ICBMs appeared in the square, the crowd broke into “enthusiastic cheers,” the KCNA said, adding that the parade also featured “tactical nuclear weapons operation units.”
North Korea stages military parades to mark important holidays and events, which 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, using the acronym of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
Commercial satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies at 10:05 p.m. (9:05 p.m. in Manila) on Wednesday showed a large North Korean flag and thousands of people assembled at the 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 Agence France-Presse (AFP).
This is an issue, he said, as Washington has planned its homeland missile defense 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 added.
Other analysts said that by parading more of Kim’s most advanced Hwasong-17 missiles than have ever been seen before, Pyongyang was sending a clear message.
“This is North Korea trying to declare itself a full-fledged nuclear power,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in South Korea’s capital Seoul, told AFP. “Kim Jong-un let North Korea’s expanding tactical and long-range missile forces speak for themselves.”
For years, Pyongyang’s state media never mentioned Kim’s children — Seoul’s spy agency believes he has three with Ri — but he unveiled his daughter Ju Ae at an ICBM launch last November.
Since then, the 10-year-old has appeared alongside her father at multiple high-profile events, most recently at 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 constant appearances with her father could indicate she is his anointed successor.
Kim’s own father, Kim Jong Il, selected him to be his successor over his elder children because he most resembled him.
North Korea has held four nighttime military parades in recent years, including the latest one.
The parade comes after North Korea vowed to expand and intensify military drills to ensure its readiness for war, following 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.