On Saturday, the North Korean military paraded an unprecedented array of weapons through Kim Il-sung Square in the center of Pyongyang. The parade was part of the Day of the Sun festivities, a national holiday marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and the grandfather of current Chairman Kim Jong-un. The day is also an occasion for North Korea to celebrate the state ideology of “Juche,” or self-reliance, which underlies the cult of personality surrounding the nation’s Supreme Leader.
The parade featured thousands of soldiers goose-stepping in formation, military planes flying overhead in the shape of the number “105,” and missile vehicles bearing massive weapons, some of which the international community has never seen before. While analysts are familiar with most of the missiles on display — such as the solid-fuel submarine-launched ballistic missiles North Korea tested in February (KN-11) and a land-based version of the same missile (KN-15) — it is not yet clear exactly what kind of behemoths were carried on a few of these transporter erector launchers (TELs).
Military analysts have some ideas, though.
They speculate that the military was showing off solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles that are hybrids of two existing types of North Korean ICBMs. These so-called “frankenmissiles” are significant for a few reasons: First, they could potentially be North Korea’s first missiles capable of reaching the continental United States. Second, solid-fuel missiles can be easily moved around on TELs, whereas liquid-fuel missiles can’t. And third, the canisterized missiles, which sit fully prepared to launch in their tubes without any additional structures or support vehicles, could be relocated without being easily tracked by satellite or radar.
All of these advantages would enhance North Korea’s ability to protect its ICBM armament and fire back in the event of a U.S. pre-emptive nuclear strike, something President Donald Trump’s White House has hinted at.
“We’re totally floored right now,” Dave Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, tells The Wall Street Journal. “I was not expecting to see this many new missile designs.”
Schmerler tells The Journal that the large missiles — the “frankenmissiles,” as he calls them — in the parade appear to be hybrids of the North Korean KN-08 and KN-14 missiles, both of which are ICBMs.
And while this pariah state’s development of a nuclear arsenal is not something to be taken lightly, some analysts question whether the largest TELs seen in Saturday’s parade contained missiles at all. As of this time, there have not yet been any tests of these large ICBMs.
Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis live-tweeted the event, and when the large TELs made their appearance, he offered his thoughts.
“The canister is ICBM-sized, though what’s inside is anyone’s guess,” Lewis tweeted.
With North Korea planning to expand its nuclear arsenal and possibly test nuclear weapons in the near future, we’re sure to see further developments on whether those truly were “frankenmissile” ICBMs in Saturday’s parade.
You can watch the entire event here, streamed from North Korean TV: