Nuclear-armed North Korea has showcased what could be a new, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at a widely-anticipated military parade attended by Kim Jong-un, his wife and young daughter.
The nighttime parade on Wednesday featured the country’s newest technology and largest missiles, including at least 11 previously tested ICBMs and tactical nuclear weapons units, state media reported on Thursday, referring to short-range systems.
The event to celebrate the military’s 75th anniversary kicked off around 10pm with fireworks and music, before the formidable arsenal was unveiled to cheering crowds as the Kim family smiled and waved from a balcony.
Kim Jong-un, dressed in thick black coat and hat, saluted alongside his generals, while his daughter Ju-ae, also dressed in formal attire, clapped proudly at the spectacle. Her presence at such a significant event – her fifth public appearance since November – will amplify speculation that she may eventually be lined up as Kim’s successor.
State media did not offer immediate details about the weaponry but analysts, citing commercial satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies, identified the largest ever ICBM, the Hwasong-17, which could be capable of reaching the mainland US, as well as what could be a new solid-fuel ICBM.
“Following the apparent Hwasong-17 ICBM pairs are four unidentified but apparently similarly sized canisterised systems,” Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said on Twitter.
Most of the country’s largest ballistic missiles in its nuclear arsenal use liquid propellants, which makes them easier to target in a pre-emptive strike because the fuel takes hours to load.
Converting missiles from liquid to solid fuel has been a major goal for the Kim regime as it makes these weapons easier to hide and transport and quicker to launch.
However, it is unclear how close the suspected new missile could be to testing as the regime has sometimes displayed mockups at the parades.
Ankit Panda, of the United States–based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, concluded that the weapon was a mock-up but that it was “more credible” than a similar one paraded in 2017, “given broad progress in solid rocket motors,” including a reportedly successful test in December.
He tweeted that 10-12 Hwasong-17s had made an appearance, “cumulatively more ICBM launchers than we’ve ever seen before at a North Korean parade.”
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that Kim’s regime had chosen nuclear weapons over diplomacy and the economy.
“The message Pyongyang wants to send internationally, demonstrating its capabilities to deter and coerce, will likely come in the form of solid-fuel missile tests and detonation of a miniaturised nuclear device,” he said.