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North Korea shows off unprecedented display of nuclear might in surprise night-time military parade


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a much-anticipated military parade on Wednesday night, showcasing the country’s largest ever display of advanced, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Images released by state media showed as many as 11 Hwasong-17 missiles, North Korea’s largest ICBM, which are capable of each carrying multiple nuclear warheads and have the range to strike nearly anywhere in the world, including the US mainland.

International observers have been noting preparations for the parade for some weeks, and on Thursday South Korea criticised its neighbour for dedicating so much time and resources to a sabre-rattling exercise while ordinary citizens struggle for enough food to survive.

Wearing a black coat and black fedora hat, an excited-looking Mr Kim was pictured waving and clapping alongside his daughter and wife as hundreds of thousands of troops showed off the hermit kingdom’s military might.

The military parade, including what state-run media said was evidence of North Korea’s “largest nuclear attack capability” to date, was held through Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung square on Wednesday night.

Satellite images of the parade released by Maxar Technologies showed huge missiles, trucks, launchers and thousands of troops parading in the brightly illuminated square’s main road as thousands of spectators watched.

Though it was a surprise that the parade took place at night-time, some form of display was widely anticipated as the country marked the 75th founding anniversary of the North Korean army.

The parade is closely analysed by intelligence agencies in the US and its allies Japan and South Korea to evaluate the latest additions to Pyongyang’s military arsenal amid its relentless push to cement the North’s status as a nuclear power.

The parade featured a range of nuclear-capable weapons, including tactical weapons capable of targeting South Korea, as well as the ICBMs, which were described by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency as crucial to the North’s ongoing policy of “power-to-power, all-out confrontation” against its enemies.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third left, and his daughter attend a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (AP)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third left, and his daughter attend a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (AP)

“It looks like 10-12 Hwasong-17 ICBMs made an appearance. This is cumulatively more ICBM launchers than we’ve ever seen before at a North Korean parade,” Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on social media.

If such ICBMs are equipped with multiple warheads, that number could be enough to saturate existing US missile defence systems, he added.

Analysts said North Korea also displayed what could be a prototype of a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, a crucial new addition to the country’s long-range arsenal targeting the US mainland.

Armoured vehicles take part in a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea’s army (via REUTERS)
Armoured vehicles take part in a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea’s army (via REUTERS)

But the canisterised ICBMs appeared different than those shown in a 2017 parade, Mr Panda said.

According to analysts, the use of solid fuel could reduce the amount of preparation time for launch, allowing missiles to be more mobile on the ground. So far all the North Korean ICBM missiles tested since 2017 used liquid propellants.

Last year in December, Mr Kim oversaw a test launch of a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor” for a new strategic weapon that he said would be developed in the “shortest span of time”. Experts said at that time this likely referred to a solid-fuel ICBM.

North Korea is expected to broadcast the parade tape on state television later on Thursday.

Additionally, the parade marked the fifth known public appearance of Mr Kim’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, dropping the strongest hint about his succession plans.

Ju is the second-born child who is believed to be around 10 years old. She is the first child of Mr Kim to enter the public limelight, attending key events and major missile tests alongside her father.

The unprecedented parade came on the heels of Mr Kim’s renewed pledge to double down on his nuclear push entering 2023.

It conducted a record-breaking number of weapon tests, firing dozens of nuclear-capable missiles in the sea and sparking alarm in South Korea, Japan and the US.

The intensified launches were punctuated with stern warnings and a new law threatening preemptive nuclear attacks for a broad range of scenarios.

On Thursday, South Korea denounced North Korea for holding the massive parade, urging it to immediately stop “illegal nuclear and missile development”.

Seoul criticised Mr Kim for its missile production at a time when it is facing a worsening food crisis and economic difficulties.

“We urge North Korea to immediately stop illegal nuclear and missile development, reckless nuclear threats and promptly return to the denuclearisation negotiations,” South Korea‘s foreign ministry spokesperson, Lim Soo-suk, told a regular briefing.