North Korea’s Kim Jong Un oversaw a major military parade showcasing a record number of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles, state media reported Thursday, including what analysts said was possibly a new solid-fueled ICBM.
The parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the country’s armed forces featured fireworks, military bands and uniformed soldiers marching in unison to spell out “2.8” and “75,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Wearing the black coat and fedora combination favoured by his grandfather and North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il Sung, Kim attended the February 8 parade with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and daughter Ju Ae, state media photographs showed.
Images showed the top leader standing flanked by his top generals in Pyongyang’s central Kim Il Sung Square, saluting as troops and missile units parade past.
The weapons on show included at least 10 of the country’s largest Hwasong-17 ICBMs, plus vehicles apparently designed to carry a solid-fueled ICBM, Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported.
North Korea has long sought to develop a solid-fuel ICBM, which could help make its nukes harder to detect and destroy.
When the ICBMs appeared in the square, it prompted cheering by spectators, KCNA said, adding that the parade also featured a “tactical nuclear operation unit.”
North Korea stages military parades to mark important holidays and events, which are closely monitored by observers for clues about the reclusive regime’s progress on its banned ballistic and nuclear weapons.
The parade showcased “the country’s greatest nuclear attack capability,” KCNA said.
Commercial satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies at 10:05 pm (1305 GMT) on Wednesday night showed a large North Korean flag and thousands of people assembled at Kim Il Sung square.
Analysts said that the scale and scope of the weaponry on display showed advances which represented a challenge to the United States.
“They’ve shown more ICBMs in the latest parade than they’ve ever shown before, consistent with a longstanding directive from Kim Jong Un on mass producing nuclear weapons and delivery systems,” US-based analyst Ankit Panda told AFP.
This is an issue, he said, as Washington has planned its homeland missile defense system to deal with a ‘limited’ missile threat from North Korea.
“North Korea has now demonstrated that their nuclear forces are far from ‘limited,’” he said.
Other analysts said that by parading more of Kim’s most advanced Hwasong-17 missiles than have ever been seen before, Pyongyang was sending a clear message.
“This is North Korea trying to declare itself a full-fledged nuclear power,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul told AFP.
For years, Pyongyang’s state media never mentioned Kim’s children – Seoul’s spy agency believes he has three with wife Ri – but he unveiled daughter Ju Ae at an intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November last year.
Since then, the 10-year-old has appeared alongside her father at multiple high-profile events, most recently a banquet Tuesday to mark the army’s founding anniversary.
Analysts say she is the equivalent of a North Korean “princess” and that her constant appearances with her father could indicate she is his anointed successor.
Kim Jong Un’s own father, Kim Jong Il, selected him to be his successor over his elder children because he most resembled him.
North Korea has held four night-time military parades in recent years – including the latest one.
The parade comes after North Korea vowed to expand and intensify military drills to ensure its readiness for war, following a record-breaking year of weapons tests, including firing its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile.
Kim recently called for an “exponential” increase in Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, including mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterstrikes.