The Buzz

Here Were the Missiles on Display in North Korea’s Latest Parade

Kim Jong-un threw a big military parade earlier today, reminding the world of his military power on the eve of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony. Compared to the massive annual parade that takes place on April 15th (the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth), today’s parade was smaller and less significant, though it did feature some interesting missile systems.

The first missile system of note was a new type of close- or short-range ballistic missile (C/SRBM) that, at first glance, looks similar to the Russian-made Iskander-M SRBM.

Like the Iskander, the new North Korean system carries two missiles side-by-side in a four axle transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle. Another similarity of the two systems is fuel type: most C/SRBMs use solid rocket fuel. Although the type of fuel used in the new North Korean missile system cannot be determined from the parade video alone, it would be very unusual for a missile of its size to not use solid fuel.

The combination of the TEL and solid rocket fuel implies that the North Korean system is highly mobile and can be launched on much shorter notice than Pyongyang’s liquid-fueled Scud missiles. The new missile may have a shorter range and lighter payload than the larger Scud, but the smaller logistical footprint and shorter launch time of the new system could offer important tactical advantages.   

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However, imagery analysts have noticed some external features of the new missile that are inconsistent with the design of the Iskander. Writing for NK Pro, Scott LaFoy says, “It may also be the case that this is a heavily modified Tochka system [another Russian missile]…[but] the imagery is insufficient for building a confident assessment.” Moreover, while the Iskander-M is a very accurate SRBM, the parade footage does not provide any definitive information about the accuracy of the North Korean missile.

Replacing or supplementing the Scud-based SRBM force with solid-fueled, highly-accurate C/SRBMs would be an important strategic development for North Korea. However, the images from the recent parade do not provide much information about North Korea’s the capabilities of the new missile system beyond some general inferences.

The parade also featured North Korea’s two inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15. This is the first time that either missile has appeared in the parade, but both were successfully flight tested in 2017, so the missiles themselves don’t come as a surprise.