North Korea’s latest display of military might, in the form of a parade commemorating the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea 70 years ago, once again featured the lavish marches, hordes of armored fighting vehicles and aerial performances the international public has come to expect from the reclusive nation. Nonetheless, it was surprisingly conservative in terms of the display of radical new systems, such as the ones that stunned military analysts during the 2012 and 2013 parades. Instead, it focused on showcasing military equipment already known to be in the KPA’s (Korean People’s Army) inventory, apparently to affirm their operational capacity.
This certainly seemed to be the case with the North’s gigantic KN-08 ballistic missiles (known in North Korea as the Hwasong-13), four of which could be seen during Saturday’s parade in a new army-green military camouflage different from the 2012 parade. Most notably however, the missiles which were uncovered to be non-operational mock-ups after subtle differences were noticed between different examples in previous parades, were radically modified and redesigned with an entirely new nosecone. This nosecone is very much reminiscent of the one seen on the Soviet R-29R submarine-launched ballistic missile (even donning the same thrusters that allow the missile to change course in mid-flight), making it a likely source for the technology upon which the KN-08 is based.
these developments signify a leap forwards toward a credible nuclear deterrent for the North
As only six of the massive WS51200 trucks were imported from China, the most logical conclusion is that the missiles seen during the 2012 and 2013 parades were placeholders for a system that might now have entered operational service. Considering the Hwasong-13’s range of up to 10,000 kilometers and the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense believes North Korea to be capable of mounting a warhead on the missile, this would mean the DPRK may now be in possession of at least six mobile nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that can hit all of Asia, most of Europe and even the U.S. mainland. With the testing of an indigenous submarine–launched ballistic missile earlier this year, these developments signify a leap forwards toward a credible nuclear deterrent for the North.
Other strategic missile systems once again featured in the parade were six BM-25 Musudan (Hwasong-10) intermediate-range ballistic missiles, another six Nodong-1s (Hwasong-7) and six Hwasong-5 or 6 Scud-based missiles, in a new silver finish and on military green camouflaged transporter erector launchers (TEL). Hidden in between the tank and surface-to-air missile parts of the parade were six Kumsong-1 ”KN-01” missiles on mobile launchers, which are based on the Soviet P-15 Termit anti-ship missile system.
Making its debut for the international public despite being known to exist since mid-2014 is the 300mm guided artillery rocket.* Preliminary assessments of the vehicle reveal a system with eight launching tubes based on the Chinese HOWO AWD 6×6 ZZ2257N5857A truck (another recent acquisition), closely resembling the Chinese AR-1 multiple rocket launcher (MRL) which is itself based on the Soviet BM-30 of the same caliber. Indeed, should the artillery rocket be based on the AR-1 this would imply a technology transfer somewhere in the previous decade, resulting in North Korean access to a guided high-caliber multiple rocket system with a range of up to 180/190 kilometers, making it ideally suited for striking South Korean and U.S. bases on the Korean peninsula.
Also returning to the stages was an air defense system with strategic implications perhaps as far-reaching as the those of the Hwasong-13. First seen in the 2012 parade, the KN-06 mobile surface-to-air missile system (known in the DPRK as the Pongae-5 SAM) was similarly speculated to be a mock-up produced to convince analysts North Korea had access to SAM technology on a par with the dreaded Soviet S-300, despite the fact that it was successfully tested in mid-2011 to a range of 150 kilometers. Subsequent parades and exercises revealed the powerful 30N6 “Flap Lid” fire control radar on an indigenously produced Taebaeksan 96 developed and manufactured in cooperation with the Russian KAMAZ truck company, and other supporting vehicles have now joined the parade to underline the system’s operational status. Aside from this new SAM system, Soviet-legacy S-125 and S-200 missiles were also paraded through the streets, although newer mobile iterations of the former of the two known to be in the Korean People’s Army inventory were lacking.
Notable newcomers in the artillery part of the parade were a self-propelled gun system comprised of a Soviet 122mm D-30 gun mounted on a 323 chassis (often erroneously referred to as VTT-323) and the 122mm “M-1993“ MRL based on a new armored truck. Interestingly, this armored Tatra 813 appears to be nearly identical to the one upon which the Czechoslovakian RM-70 MRL is based, confirming the rumored delivery of RM-70s during the Cold War. Subtle differences between the RM-70 and the North Korean model confirm it is in fact produced in the DPRK as well however.
Despite the fact that most equipment showcased this year was previously known to be available to the North Korean armed forces, and the overall diversity of weapons systems driven past the viewing stands was comparatively limited, it is certain the DPRK has once again made every effort to show its international adversaries that development of new systems is still ongoing, and that the KPA remains a force to be reckoned with. Considering the sheer amount of participants and the potential capabilities of the weaponry showcased which will keep military analysts busy for the foreseeable future, they may well have succeeded in doing so.
*Note: This 300mm guided MRL system has previously been referred to externally by the designation of KN-09. However, that designation has also been applied to the Kumsong-3 anti-ship ballistic missile. The domestic North Korean designation for this weapon system is not yet known.
Featured image: KN-06 SAMs passing by as the crowd spells out “Songun politics” | Image: KCTV
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