North Korea held a military parade on Thursday morning, pictures from state broadcaster the Korean Central Television (KCTV) showed, using the event to showcase recently tested Hwasong-14 and 15 rockets on the eve of the Winter Olympics.
But despite the timing of the parade having the potential to complicate the optics of ongoing inter-Korean rapprochement, it was notably smaller than last April’s, featuring less military hardware, fewer missile types, and running for a shorter duration.
Four of the much-anticipated monster-size Hwasong 15 ICBMs – which analysts say can reach targets anywhere in the continental United States – rolled out on extended nine axle transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) to draw the parade to its conclusion.
They were preceded by a cluster of at least three Hwasong-14 ICBMs, revealed last July and being unusually transported on articulated lorries, as well as six Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and six Pukguksong-2 solid-fuelled IRBMs.
Notably, the parade also featured the apparent debut of a cluster of six four-axle vehicles carrying pairs of what appear to be short-range and solid-fuel 9K720 Iskander-style ballistic missiles.
Experts said “subsequent analysis is required” to establish the capabilities of the new missiles.
“Whatever the true story turns out to be, the North Koreans clearly intend to impress on us that they not only have this system, they’re indigenously producing it as well,” Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans from the military-focused Oryx blog told NK News.
“If that’s true, this is truly another highly significant turn of events.”
However, the range and number of missiles on display was lower than that presented during the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung last April, a move one attendee thought might be linked to the forthcoming Olympics.
“They wanted to keep a low profile (so as) not to aggravate the current situation,” said a source who observed parts of the part on Thursday. “Some Chinese tourists said the DPRK doesn’t want to cause trouble before the Olympics.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare speech at the event, held to mark the foundation of the country’s military.
Speaking to thousands of soldiers and civilians, the North Korean leader said the military parade “will show off the status of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which has developed into a world-class military power.”
Kim called for the country’s military to “spur to prepare for the fight,” describing the current situation as “the U.S. and its followers making a flurry” on the Korean peninsula.
“We shouldn’t allow invaders to infringe or ridicule even 0.001mm the dignity and sovereignty of our sacred homeland,” he said.
“As long as imperialism exists on the planet and the U.S. hostile policy against the DPRK continues, the mission of our people’s army as a strong sword of state which protects the fatherland and people and guards peace can never change.”
Kim told the army that the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) would “thank you endlessly” and guide the army to “new struggles and victories.”
Invitees were asked to assemble in Kim Il Sung Square before 0900, after which the area was secured and off-limits for non-invitees.
Cell-phone access was temporarily suspended throughout the city “before and when the convoy came,” said one source. “Every call immediately cut, no dialing — but it only lasted a short time.”
North Korean authorities conducted a similar freeze of its sole cellphone network in April last year, NK News previously reported, apparently for security purposes.
The parade itself kicked off around 1000, with the main show punctuated by a fireworks finish around 1130.
“From about 12.30 or so there were convoys of trucks with soldiers on the main road, more than 300 trucks,” one source who attended the parade said. “Just before the end some tanks showed up and that was it.”
“On the road it was 90% only soldier trucks, all kinds; infantry, special forces, pilots, ladies.”
But the source said the parade felt formulaic and observers seemed noticeably unenthusiastic.
“In the downtime it was really apathetic – many disgruntled faces among the young girls, especially those forced to play brass instruments on the road.”
Edited video aired by KCTV on Thursday afternoon, about seven hours after the parade kicked off, showing tens of thousands of troops marching and standing in formation in below-freezing temperatures in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square.
Notably, the video appeared to use modern filming technology, including both go-pro and drone-mounted cameras.
Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju arrived via stretch black Mercedes.
The military parade comes one day before the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will also be attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
In attendance at Thursday’s parade was President of the Presidium of the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong Nam, Premier Pak Pong Ju, DPRK First Lady Ri Sol Ju, and other officials.
Notably not in attendance was Hwang Pyong So, a formerly high-ranking military official widely believed to have been purged last year.
One expert said his non-attendance was a strong indication that these rumors were true.
“Given that he had not appeared in any official publications one can only conclude that he is indeed purged – and this can be said with certainty,” Fyodor Tertitskiy, an NK Pro analyst, said.
In Hwang’s place was Kim Jong Gak, a vice chief of North Korea’s Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces who was rumored to have been purged in 2012.
Kim Yong Nam is set to visit South Korea on Friday to attend the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics.
He will be joined by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Choe Hwi, and first vice director of the Central Committee of the WPK Kim Yo Jong.
The four will leave Pyongyang tomorrow afternoon via private jet, landing at South Korea’s Incheon Airport at 1330 KST.
Despite the attendance at the ceremony of high-level U.S. officials, the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Ministry on Thursday ruled out the possibility of a meeting between Pyongyang and Washington.
The delegation, however, is set to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday, according to a statement by the Blue House on Thursday afternoon.
North Korea has so far dispatched a total of 473 people, including the 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra and the 229-member cheering squad to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
North Korea’s Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in January announced the country would mark February 8 as the founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA).
Pyongyang said it would “significantly hold diverse events” to mark the establishment of the DPRK army.
Featured image: KCTV