North Korea’s massive pre-dawn parade was aimed more at a domestic audience than Pyongyang’s potential adversaries, says Kim Dong-yup, veteran North Korea watcher, ex-military officer and professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far East Studies.
“In my opinion, there were no special messages for South Korea or the United States in Chairman Kim Jong-un’s speech,” the academic explains.
“Some analysts will probably find it significant that in the first part of his speech, he conveyed words of support to the people of the whole world, expressed warm feelings to his compatriots in the South and the hope that the crisis will be overcome soon and that the North and South can join hands once again. But I would just say that this is formal political rhetoric,” Kim suggests.
According to the former military officer, one thing that caught him off-guard during Kim’s speech was the North Korean leader’s unusually frank apology to the North Korean people for not being able to meet their needs and expectations fully.
In his speech, Kim told his compatriots that he felt “ashamed” that he hasn’t “been able to repay you properly for your enormous trust,” and added that his “efforts and devotion were not sufficient to bring our people out of difficult livelihoods.”
Professor Kim adds: “One could feel how Kim Jong-un’s voice trembled every now and then, and the expression on his face seemed to show that he was close to weeping several times. This initially confused me, and I deliberately rewatched these moments several times to make sure that I was not mistaken."
On the whole, the observer suggests that Kim’s speech was “very restrained” in its message to foreign audiences, but was “a well-executed performance for the internal audience".
As for speculation about why the parade was held at night, Kim Dong-yup dismisses suggestions that it was to hide the country’s new weapons systems from Washington or Seoul, or to avoid provoking these countries.
“If they did not want to display their new weapons, they could simply just not have shown a recording of the event at all,” the analyst points out. Furthermore, “there were no signs of editing or attempts to hide anything, so it’s unlikely that such a motive existed. As far as staging the event at night, in my view it does not indicate any deep message. Judging by the video in which Chairman Kim appears to open the event under the ringing of clock bells striking midnight, the calculation seems to have been to amplify the effect on the internal audience through such a sudden political event. Similar tricks are used in South Korea and around the world.”
Kim Dong-yup spotted multiple new models of weapons systems, as well as upgraded versions of existing systems, at the parade. Among them were 152-mm self-propelled guns, and at least five types of multiple-launch rocket systems, including 122mm and 240mm systems and three with "super-large" shells of as much as 400mm and 600mm.
Also present were anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, including Pukguksong-4A submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Kim points out that “outwardly, they look similar to the Pukguksong-3 (which have a diameter of between 1.5m and 1.6m), which was test-launched on 2 October 2019. But the Pukguksong-4A seems to have filled out a little, with a diameter of 1.8m to 2m. Taking into consideration the fact that the Pukguksong family of missiles uses solid fuel engines, the larger diameter likely means an improvement in the technology of making the solid fuel more compact and, accordingly, an increase in range. Additionally, given the increase in diameter, it can be assumed that it was created for a larger new submarine which is being developed at present.”
It seems new SLBM - Pukguksong-4A pic.twitter.com/CM1MUoi9Yt— Yuri Lyamin (@imp_navigator) October 10, 2020
Given the fact that no launches of the Pukguksong-4 have been carried out so far, Kim believes it’s impossible to know whether the system displayed at the parade was a production model, a project that’s still under development or a mock-up. “In addition, an increase in the diameter of a solid-propellant rocket can mean not only work on an SLBM, but also the improvement of the Pukguksong-2, which is intended for launches from the ground. In other words, it can be assumed that a solid-propellant ground-based missile is being developed to replace the Hwasong-12 liquid-fueled missile with an equal range,” he says.
In the second half of the parade, Kim Dong-yup spotted North Korean road-mobile short-range ballistic missile systems which look similar to Russia’s Iskander and America’s MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATacMS), plus Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-15 missiles.
North Korean SRBM a-la Iskander that actively tested in last year. Wheeled and tracked launchers. pic.twitter.com/aiqRWt2YOm— Yuri Lyamin (@imp_navigator) October 10, 2020
Especially for the United States
According to Kim, the never-before-seen intercontinental ballistic missile system which appeared at the parade’s finale and was carried aboard an 11-axle erector launcher was “shown especially for the United States,” presumably as a sign of Pyongyang’s deterrent power.
“It’s still necessary to conduct a detailed comparative analysis, but judging by the images, it has a length of about 24m to 25m, and an increased diameter” compared to the Hwasong-15 ICBM, the observer notes.
“Given the fact that it was not directly named the Hwasong-15, chances are good that this is a mockup, or that development is still ongoing. But we can assume that it belongs to the Hwasong family, and that its main engine also uses a liquid-fueled Pektusan engine. Nevertheless, in its first stage it appears to use not a cluster of three engines (in the Hwasong-15 there is a combination of two engines) but a new, more powerful engine for whose creation North Korea carried out tests last December at the Tongch’ang rocket facility.”
Kim Dong-yup doesn’t believe that the new ICBM necessarily has an increased range, given that the previously unveiled Hwasong-15 already has the capability to carry out a strike anywhere in the continental United States with its 13,000 km range. Instead, he postulates, “the main thing is not the firing range, but an increase in the weight of its warhead, as well as stability and reliability of operation…Given the current level of North Korean technology in the field of miniaturisation and weight reduction of nuclear warheads, I do not believe that we are talking about a missile with multiple warheads.”
Finally, the observer recalls that in late 2019, Kim Jong-Un announced that “the world will soon see a new strategic weapon possessed by the DPRK".
“And it seems that by showing off the Pukguksong-4 and the new ICBM on an 11-axle carrier at this parade, he has fulfilled his promise,” Kim Dong-yup concludes.