SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s unprecedented overnight military parade on Saturday showed an unusual array of new weaponry, from a “monstrous” ballistic missile to battle tanks never seen before.
The new military set, probably still in varying stages of development, offered leader Kim Jong Un a chance to show the world his cutting-edge military might, while managing to add practical capabilities to Korea’s already formidable conventional nuclear and military forces. North, experts said.
Kim walks in a fine line, on the one hand trying to increase pressure on the United States to ease economic sanctions, and on the other, trying not to destroy the relationship with the country’s president, Donald Trump, or with Pyongyang’s big partner, the China.
“Kim Jong Un’s speech was not a threat to the United States. Instead he labeled North Korea’s nuclear forces as self-defensive,” said Bruce Klingner, a retired CIA analyst in North Korea who now works at the Heritage Foundation. “The clear message is that, contrary to US claims, the North Korean nuclear threat has not been resolved.”
Filming of the parade suggests the use of an enormous intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) potentially more lethal in function or of multiple warheads or a larger payload, in addition to larger missile carriers, a missile launched by a state-of-the-art submarine and advances in armament conventional, military analysts said.
The star of Saturday’s show was an immense and unprecedented ICBM loaded in an equally huge “transporter-erector-launcher” (TEL) vehicle with 11 axles.
Estimated at 25 to 26 meters in length and 2.5 to 2.9 meters in diameter, the unidentified missile is expected to be the largest ICBM capable of being transported by road in the world, military analysts said.
Given that the Hwasong-15, the largest missile ever tested by North Korea, can already target anywhere in the United States, the most likely practical use for the new ICBM would be the ability to transport multiple warheads, said Melissa Hanham, vice – Director of the Open Nuclear Network.
It is much cheaper for North Korea to add warheads than for the United States to add interceptors, said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies (CNS).
“If each new North Korean ICBM can carry 3 to 4 warheads, we will need about 12 to 16 interceptors for each missile,” he said on Twitter. “The last time the US bought 14 interceptors, it cost $ 1 billion.”
Other analysts said the missile could simply be designed to carry a single, larger warhead.
“A larger missile does not necessarily mean multiple warheads, a technology that I believe North Korea has not yet secured,” said Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korean Navy officer who is now a professor at the Far East Institute of Kyungnam University in Seoul.
Experts said it is also notable that North Korea has apparently built the huge new TELs to transport the missiles.
“They have a very limited supply of long TELs that they purchased from China,” said another CNS researcher, Dave Schmerler, adding that the lack of vehicles has limited the number of ICBMs that could be deployed. “So the longest TELs we’ve seen have been produced locally.”
But the enormous size of the new missile and its carrier also has its drawbacks, said Markus Schiller, a Europe-based missile expert.
“Only special roads and bridges could support this vehicle,” he said. “No person in their right mind would drive this time bomb across North Korea.”
It would probably take up to half a day to fuel such a large missile, making it difficult to use quickly in a war, meaning that the missile’s primary purpose is probably a political warning, Schiller said.
North Korea has also revealed what appears to be a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), called Pukguksong-4.
“If their intention is to use the new SLBM, it could be aimed at the ballistic missile submarine that North Korea insinuated to have built in July 2019,” said analysts at 38 North, a United States-based research organization.
At least some parts of the missile’s engine casing appeared to be coated in light material, which would reduce the weight of the missile structure and allow greater range and payload capacity, the report said.
The parade also featured what appeared to be new or upgraded weapons for the North Korean army, one of the largest in the world.
Rows and rows of multiple rocket and short-range ballistic missile launch systems that had been intensively tested last year were shown.
“My biggest concern is the short-range tactical solid-fuel missiles that North Korea focused on developing last year,” said Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean nuclear negotiator.
The parade also featured new mobile air defense radar vehicles and what appeared to be an entirely new tank with anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers more integrated with North Korean design than previous imported models.
((Translation by São Paulo, 55 11 56447753)) REUTERS AAJ