North Korea held a major military parade today, displaying thousands of troops and major military equipment—much of it nuclear-capable.
The regime made a point of flaunting its nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, including the new long-range missiles potentially capable of reaching the continental United States as well as previously unseen short-range missiles. These weapons are North Korea’s strategy for ensuring the survival of leader Kim Jong-un and the survival of his regime.
The parade was held in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army. Troops and their equipment thundered through Kim Il Sung Square, past a reviewing stand where Kim’s grandson and the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, stood. While the event itself wasn't unusual, it was also a case of lucky timing: The parade took place just before the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in neighboring South Korea.
Footage of the parade, uploaded to YouTube by the North Korean news site , showed off the military hardware that passed before Kim and thousands of spectators. Here’s a breakdown of the parade.
Starting at the is a North Korean parade favorite: the . These long-range guns are heavier than anything in the U.S. Army arsenal and are major part of the artillery force that threatens the South Korean capital of Seoul. However, there are only so many of the guns, and if war breaks out, the guns would be more likely to fire in support of a general North Korean invasion than target civilians.
At the mark is a new piece of conventional heavy artillery: the . This truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher system has 22 240-millimeter rocket tubes in two banks of eleven each. Like the Koksan, these rockets could strike Seoul or other long-range, military targets without crossing the Demilitarized Zone. Like the Koksan, these are actually larger than their U.S. Army equivalents, though that does not necessarily mean they are better. For one thing, these vehicles are completely unarmored and would not survive enemy artillery fire.
The mark has the KN-16's bigger brother: the KN-09. The , also mounted on a truck, has eight 300-millimeter rocket tubes. These tubes are both wider and longer than those used by the KN-16. The KN-09 has an estimated range of 111 miles.
The mark has an entirely new missile system. This system appears to be a short-ranged ballistic missile very similar to Russia's . Like Iskander, the new missile has a sharp-nosed but generally stubby profile. Also like the Russian missile the North Korean one is carried two to a truck, with the missiles elevated above the roof through protective doors. With the doors closed and the missiles hidden, the 9K720 and its Korean cousin look no different from ordinary trucks, giving them a James Bond villain cachet.
This new missile could theoretically be nuclear armed, but North Korea likely has a ways to go in nuclear warhead miniaturization and a safer bet is that they carry conventional high explosive or cluster bomblet warheads. Then again, Kim Jong Un has surprised the world many times in the past few years so it's quite possible these have nuclear warheads.
From this point on in the parade, North Korea showcases its nuclear-tipped missiles. The , known locallly as the Pukkuksong-2, rolls by at the mark. The KN-15 is a land-based version of the KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile. The KN-15 is fitted to a armored vehicle chassis with tank treads to improve cross-country mobility, an important consideration when your country only has 449 miles of paved roads. KN-15 has an estimated range between 310 to 1,553 miles, placing all of Japan (and America's bases across Japan) in the crosshairs.
A longer range missile, known to North Korea as the Hwasong-12 () rolls by at the mark. The KN-17 has an estimated range between 2,299 miles and 2,796 miles, meaning it has the ability to strike U.S. air, naval, and Marine Corps bases on the U.S. territory of Guam. A major drawback to this missile is its liquid fueling system, which takes hours to complete and leaves the missile vulnerable to enemy action.
The KN-20, also known as the Hwasong-14, first appears at the mark. The is the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) appearing in the parade capable of striking most of the United States. The missile was tested on July 4th, 2017--a date that is almost certainly not a coincidence--and has an estimated striking distance in excess of 6,213 miles, placing almost all of the U.S. (with the exception of the Deep South) in range of North Korean nuclear weapons.
Unlike other missiles that were paraded on their transporter-erector-launcher vehicles, the KN-20 was paraded on the back of a flatbed truck.
North Korea saved the biggest for last. The final missile to roll down the parade route was the monster ICBM, also known as the Hwasong-15. The missile, first tested in November 2017, first rolls by at the mark. The KN-22 is carried aboard a transporter-erector (TE), which carries the missile from a protected position—such as an underground cave or hardened shelter—to a fixed concrete launch pad. The TE vehicle is so long it has nine axles, one more than the timber-hauling vehicles originally bought in China.
The KN-22 missile's size means it can fly even farther than the KN-20, and the missile is estimated to have a range of up to 8,077 miles, placing all of the United States in striking distance.