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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea showcased what appears to be two new types of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at a major military parade in Pyongyang on Saturday, held to mark the 105th birthday anniversary of the late founder Kim Il Sung.
Two road-mobile transporter vehicles were spotted at the end of the missile display at the parade carrying projectiles similar in size to ICBMs seen in other countries, pictures taken by NK News at the scene showed on Saturday.
The emergence of the probable ICBMs, which appear not to have been flight-tested but could be in an advanced state of development, are significant: U.S. President Trump said in January that North Korea developing such capabilities “won’t happen”.
And amid growing tensions with Washington, high-ranking party official Choe Ryong Hae warned at the parade that Pyongyang was ready for war with the U.S. and was prepared for preemptive strikes if circumstances required.
Four extended and articulated trucks carried by seven wheel axels were seen carrying ICBM-size missiles through Kim Il Sung Square in front of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and high-ranking officials, pictures taken by NK News at the scene showed.
But while the display of the missiles will have been intended to rattle Washington at an increasingly difficult time, it remains unclear yet whether or not the probable ICBMs were anything beyond prototypes.
“When the articulated trucks went past me I noticed the nosecone of one of the missiles vibrating up and down quite noticeably as the vehicle passed over the uneven surface on the road,” said NK News managing director Chad O’Carroll, who was at the scene in Pyongyang.
“None of the other missile types vibrated in that way, suggesting the one on display might have been a lot lighter than it looked.”
In addition, four other transporter erector launcher vehicles featuring eight wheel axels were observed carrying missiles consistent with the size and shape of Soviet-era and Chinese ICBMs, but which could also be an extended and improved version of North Korea’s KN-14 missile, first shown on October 2015.
“The (missile) loaded on the eight-axle TEL appears to be a (variant of) the liquid-fueled KN-14 ICBM, and the other one carried on the seven-axle vehicle is likely to be a ‘Pukguksong-3’ which uses the cold launch method and a solid fuel-powered engine,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Kyungnam University.
Kim Min-seok, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum (KODEF), also said the second ICBM-style model appeared related to the KN-14 missile. However, he said the missile may have been “remodeled” as the shape of the launch tube seemed to have changed quite significantly.
Kim Min-seok added that what appeared to be the first of the new ICBMs was “nearly similar” to the structure and launch tube of China’s Dong Feng 31 (DF-31) ICBM.
Also on display were six Pukguksong-2 missiles covered by launch tubes mounted on tracked transporter erector launchers (TEL) and six Pukguksong-1 missiles carried on trailers were also observed by NK News at the scene.
The two cold-launch missile types give North Korea major assets in the event of war: the track-mobile device can be launched quickly with little warning from remote areas, while the submarine version could one day theoretically be launched from far away in ocean water, close to enemy territory.
Cold-launching technology was last displayed by the North when it tested a Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile in February, assessed by observers as a new type of solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) based on technology related to Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
Land-based testing of the Pukguksong-1 SLBM began as early as 2013, when a test-stand at Sinpo port was built, and the first confirmed submerged test launch was conducted in May 2015.
Musudan missiles were also visible at the parade, Kim Min-seok and NK Pro missile analyst Scott LaFoy said. But Kim said the nose cone of the Musudan missile appeared to have also changed, now appearing more similar to the KN-08.
The Musudan missile – also known as the BM-25 or Hwasong-10 – has an estimated range of between 2,500-4,000 kilometers and could, theoretically, reach the U.S. territory of Guam in the Western Pacific.
North Korea test-fired Musudan missiles eight times between April 15 and October 20, but succeeded only once, in a launch on June 22.
Tal Inbar, a missile expert based at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Israel, said the North also showed off new missile which looks similar to KN-08.
The North unveiled its KN-08 ICBM for the first time at a military parade marking the centenary of Kim il Sung’s birth on April 15, 2012.
“This missile is a new one. It has many features resembling the Hwasong-13 (also KN-08), BUT – no third stage. It is also on the Musudan (HA-10) TEL,” Inbar told NK News.
“I believe this missile is an upgraded, the second stage version of the HS-13, with the same nuclear warhead we already know.”
Besides the ICBMs, the North showed a variety of other new weapons at the large-scale military parade.
“They threw more military tech at us than any military parade I’ve ever seen,” LaFoy told NK News, adding the North also appeared to have displayed “new anti-ship ballistic missiles”.
“If those fins are attached to a reentry vehicle, they imply (though they do not 100% indicate) a maneuverable warhead which would be consistent with DPRK claims that they are working on an anti-ship ballistic missile,” LaFoy said, caveating that his comments were based on an initial analysis of imagery.
Kim Min-seok also said that missiles mounted on tank-like vehicles at the event were newly disclosed to the public.
“The size is similar to Scud-type missile. But four wings are newly added at the missile nose cone, so it’s similar to China’s Dong-Feng 15 (DF-15) short-range ballistic missile and it’s different from a Scud missile,” Kim said.
Kim and LaFoy both said new types of surface-to-ship missile systems were also unveiled.
“I think that the treaded vehicle that is in the blue, white camouflage paint is an anti-ship cruise missile system which would make it an anti-ship coastal battery,” LaFoy said.
Chad O’Carroll contributed to this report
All photos credit to NK News