North Korea didn’t launch a missile or conduct a nuclear test, as feared, but it used an important national holiday to show off new firepower that could be capable of striking far-off enemies.
A massive military parade in Pyongyang celebrated the Day of the Sun, April 15, which is the birthday of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il Sung. His grandson, Kim Jong Un, leads the country today.
The parade was broadcast on state television and made widely available on the internet. North Korea, typically closed off to foreign journalists, even allowed a live broadcast by the BBC while tanks and missiles rolled by its camera. “You can actually feel the ground shake,” said the network’s correspondent, John Sudworth.
Military analysts said the parade featured three types of intercontinental ballistic missiles, one of which appeared to be new. North Korea has never tested a missile that could cross the Pacific Ocean, and many experts are skeptical of whether it is capable of doing so. But Kim Jong Un recently said his military was preparing for such a test, which could provoke a response from the nation’s adversaries.
Two of the missiles seen at the parade were the KN-08 and KN-14, according to analysts. These missiles, which North Korea was already known to have developed, are notable because they could be capable of striking the US with a nuclear weapon. At a parade in 2015, North Korea claimed its KN-14 missiles had nuclear warheads on their tips.
Those missiles rolled out first at the parade, along with other weaponry that North Korea has previously shown off. “And then, if you’ll permit me, shit got weird,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert in military affairs.
North Korea rolled out gigantic canisters that were the size of intercontinental missiles, but it was impossible to tell what was inside the canisters. “Given the size, it looks like it contains a new ballistic missile with a range of 6,000 kilometers,” Shin In-kyun, another military expert in the region, told the New York Times (paywall).
That missile, along with other elements of the parade, raised the possibility that North Korea had made advances in solid-fuel technology, which is easier to move around. Solid-fueled missiles would be a major advancement for the country because they could be used on mobile launchpads and evade attacks. Liquid-fueled missiles can’t move as easily and so tend to be sitting ducks, if the US or another country decided to take them out.
A switch from liquid to solid fuel would be important because it could change North Korea’s so-called “second-strike” ability to respond to a preemptive attack.
“North Korea seems to be highlighting the perils of a preemptive first strike to the United States and South Korea,” The Diplomat reported. “With every nuclear and ballistic missile test, its threat of inflicting unacceptable retaliatory damage against Seoul and, eventually, Washington becomes more credible.”