North Korea Puts On Military Spectacle, but Doesn’t Test Nuclear Weapon

Goose-stepping soldiers pour into Kim Il-Sung Square, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017 (AFP Photo/Ed JONES)
Goose-stepping soldiers pour into Kim Il-Sung Square, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017 (AFP Photo/Ed JONES)

North Korea put on a huge military spectacle Saturday to celebrate its founder’s birthday, parading its series of new and technologically advanced missiles in front of Kim Jong Un, and in a defiant show of force in front of the world.

North Korea did not, however, carry out another nuclear test or ballistic missile launch, against widespread speculation that it would seek to celebrate Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday with a bang.

April 15 is the most important day in the North Korean calendar, and Kim Jong Un has celebrated his grandfather’s birthday with great fanfare as a way to boost his own legitimacy as the successor to the communist dynasty.

North Korea presented two of its newest missiles at the parade in Kim Il Sung Square on Saturday, including the submarine-launched ballistic missile it successfully fired last year and the land-based version it launched last month.

“And there were a lot of them,” said Melissa Hanham, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California. “The signal that they’re trying to send is that they are moving ahead with solid-fuel missiles.”

North Korea has been working on solid fuel, which means missiles are ready to fire and don’t need loading with propellant like its previous liquid-fueled missiles, as a way to fire missiles quickly and without detection by satellites.

Analysts were working to identify all the missiles that were shown off on Saturday, many of which appeared to have new paint jobs or be variants on known missiles.

One of the missiles looked similar to the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile that North Korea had included in previous parades. This missile has a theoretical range of about 7,500 miles, which is enough to reach all of the United States from North Korea, said Joshua Pollack, editor of the Nonproliferation Review.

It also put two ICBM canisters, which protect solid-fueled missiles from the effects of the environment, on the trucks that had carried the ICBMs previously. One may have been a KN-14, another missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, although it has a slightly shorter range.

The trucks that carried the missile canisters were Chinese ones that had been exported to North Korea’s forestry ministry but have shown up in military parades like this one.

Saturday’s display was worrying, Hanham said.

“They have an indigenous tank system now so they have more launchers, and they have solid fuel, which means they can launch a lot more of these things in quick succession without having to refuel,” she said.

The overall message to the world was that North Korea was pressing ahead with its missiles and making technological progress.

The parade took place amid stern warnings from the outside world, and mounting fears about some kind of military action in the region.

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