A military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Korean People’s Army was staged in Pyongyang, Kim Il-sung Square, on the night of February 8 to 9. It was a large colorful celebration with fireworks and an air display, attended by specialists from across the world in anticipation of new weaponry and pronouncements by the country’s leader on military strategic matters.
Since Kim Jong-un had taken power in late 2011, the government has hosted 13 military parades, the most recent being in April 2022 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army.
The day before the parade, the 8th WPK Central Military Committee held its 4th enlarged meeting, chaired by Kim Jong-un, where they discussed “the main military and political tasks for 2023 and prospective issues on the direction in building the armed forces.” Also included were “a number of business tasks to achieve a radical turnaround in military-political work, including the issues of taking structural and personnel measures to radically improve and strengthen military affairs, steadily expanding and strengthening the People’s Army’s operational and combat training, further strictly improving war readiness in response to the current situation, and further revising some points of the Army internal service regulations in accordance with the current situation.” The necessary decrees were passed. Unfortunately, the specifics were not made public.
Kim Jong-un and his daughter and wife went to the “People’s Army generals’ housing area” the next day. Kim stressed the KPA’s duty as the Workers’ Party of Korea’s army and stated, as the ROK media reported, that there were no parts in the address intended at South Korea or the US.
How was the parade?
There were numerous intriguing things this time for “Pyongyangologists” who pay attention to little nuances. First, Kim Jong-un was referred to as a “invincible steel commander”: this is one of Kim Il-sung’s titles that was previously used only infrequently.
Second, the procession was without Choi Ryong-hae, head of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. He is currently in control of the legislative, yet he is a vice marshal in the military. As a result, Pyongyangologists worried whether this was a sign of dishonor, and if so, why. They also noticed two men on the rostrum who oversee the defence industry: Lee Byung-chul, a member of the WPK Politburo’s Central Committee, deputy chairman of the Party Central Military Committee, and secretary of the Party Central Committee, who is considered a representative of the MIC, and second deputy chairman and former defence minister Lee Yong-gill, who was appointed to replace his successor Park Chung-cheon.
Third, it was not the first time Kim had brought not only his wife, but also his beloved daughter to such an event, with “beloved” and even “respected” (an epithet used with the names of leaders in the North being epithets used in connection with her name in an official CTAC report. Kim first revealed his daughter to the outside world in November 2022, when they attended the Hwasong-17 ICBM test launch and she sat between her father and mother during the conference with the generals being in the center of the photo shoot.
All of this has fueled conjecture that ten- or eleven-year-old Kim Ju-ae (the name is presumed by ROK intelligence) is already being groomed to be the heir. Chung Song Chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank, for example, stated that such epithets would be improper if she were not the next in line to inherit.
The author, on the other hand, believes that the girl represents future generations whose pleasure and security must be protected by the nuclear missile shield. Besides, Kim was already interested in military equipment and modelling at her age, and the daughter may follow in her father’s footsteps.
What was displayed at the parade?
Aside from the rockets, which we’ll discuss later, the parade had a new feature that was evocative of Russia’s “Immortal Regiment” – “photographs displaying the glorious image of anti-Japanese revolutionary soldiers gleamed in the first row of the parade forces beside the military banner.” They depicted both of Kim Il-sung’s fellow rebels and Korean War heroes.
In addition to the familiar troops and military college representatives, “columns of the Sixth Department of the Party Central Committee, the Commandant’s Office of the State Council, the Guard Service, and the Guard Troops Command,” as well as those of the General Intelligence Department, Special Forces, and service troops, including the 191st Command and Information Brigade, marched in the mighty procession. This is significant to the author because of Kim Jong-un’s stance on various sorts of military groups. As a graduate of a military university, he understands all of the components of victory and does not only accolade parade troops.
The march of the 1st Mobile Hospital convoy elicited a flood of happy sentiments. The spectators sent “warm congratulations and thunderous applause” to the military doctors who “displayed the fullness of noble spirit of the Party and Revolutionary Army in the great era of Kim Jong-un in the emergency and anti-emergency struggle for overcoming the health crisis in the capital and performed brilliant feats of arms”.
As for military equipment, especially missiles, the key word was “columns”: as we noted earlier, the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile does not exist in a single instance, and this is very important for assessing the North’s nuclear missile capabilities. According to Carnegie Endowment security specialist Ankit Panda, “This is cumulatively more ICBM launchers than we’ve ever seen before at a North Korean parade.” “North Korea has demonstrated enough ICBMs to overwhelm US ballistic missile defenses.”
Such convoys included:
- The Hwasong-17 proper, which demonstrated the state’s “supreme nuclear strike capability.”
- The new ICBM on an 18-wheeler that is likely a long-range solid-propellant missile, which Pyongyang announced the completion of late last year. It is several meters longer than the one demonstrated in 2017 but shorter than the Hwasong-17, a senior fellow at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, a think tank, told The Korea Times
- KN-23 tactical missiles modeled after the Russian Iskander ballistic missile and long-range cruise missiles capable of “covering” most of the ROK.
- Ultra-large MLRSs and 152-mm self-propelled howitzers – the main means for a possible attack on Seoul and its environs.
What to expect now?
The Office of the ROK President said the government is watching developments closely. On speculation that Kim’s appearance with his daughter is a sign of his intention to prepare her as his successor, the official declined to comment, saying that this is the purview of intelligence.
On February 9, State Department spokesman Ned Price stated that the US is open to conversation with North Korea, but will not remove sanctions just to get Pyongyang back to the bargaining table, and will not cut joint military drills with allies. When asked about the military parade, Price declined to comment, saying, “This is a propaganda exercise carried out by the DPRK… What I will say is that our aim has not changed. The Korean Peninsula must be completely de-nuclearized”.
Experts, on the other hand, are anticipating the testing of a new solid-propellant missile, pointing out that “The missile has not yet been tested in flight.” The DPRK, on the other hand, has already learned how to build large diameter solid rocket engines, lightweight composite fiber rocket bodies by winding, multistage solid rockets, high-strength assemblies, transport and launch containers, and very high thrust solid propellant engines, among other things. That is, the DPRK possesses all of the required components. It should also be remembered that if Pyongyang displays anything that has not yet flown, it usually signifies that it will fly in the near future“. According to Russian analyst Vladimir Khrustalyov who shared his opinion with RIA Novosti, the liquid and heavy Hwasong-17 ICBMs and the new solid-fuel missiles complement each other, making direct military conflict “unacceptable” to Washington.
In a crisis situation, the Hwasong 17 is perfectly suited for a first strike. It may transport a big payload, such as several warheads and/or decoys or superpowered weapons called “City Killers”. The mere presence of such missiles in place can impose pressure on the opponent, but their deployment involves extensive prelaunch procedures. Thus, the mobility of North Korean military personnel working with liquid fuel serves as a warning to South Korea and the United States, implying the possibility of a successful preventative assault.
Since 2017, the North has tested all ICBMs with liquid fuel. However, because it takes less preparation time than liquid fuel, the new system has a good chance of surviving a first hit. Solid propellant is more dependable and less expensive, and it also allows better missile mobility and a quicker launch preparation time, making this form of missile strike more immediate. This is what Khrustalyov refers to as “second-strike missiles,” and while such an ICBM “delivers” 30-50 kilotons to a conditional target rather than a megaton, this is more than enough to inflict damage that negates the enemy’s victory on the peninsula. As a result, “by complementing each other at intercontinental distances, these two types of ICBMs can create that very “corridor of predetermination” for Washington, making its strategy of overly tough crisis diplomacy, and even more so, direct military confrontation, deliberately unacceptable,” the expert explains.
To summarise, the people of the DPRK put on a colorful display, and the leadership demonstrated actual commitment to the course “To nuclear weapons – with nuclear weapons, to head-on conflict – with head-on confrontation!”
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”