By Josh Smith and Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL, Feb 9 (Reuters) – Nuclear-armed North Korea showcased its missile production muscle during a nighttime parade, state media reported on Thursday, displaying more intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) than ever before and hinting at a new solid-fuel weapon.
North Korea held the widely anticipated nighttime military parade in Pyongyang on Wednesday to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its army, state news agency KCNA said.
Leader Kim Jong Un attended with his daughter, who is seen as playing a possible future leadership role in the hereditary dictatorship.
The ICBMs showed North Korea’s “greatest” nuclear strike capability, KCNA said, adding that the parade also featured tactical nuclear units.
Imagery released by state media showed as many as 11 Hwasong-17s, North Korea’s largest ICBMs, which are suspected to have the range to strike nearly anywhere in the world with a nuclear warhead.
“This is cumulatively more ICBM launchers than we’ve ever seen before at a North Korean parade,” Ankit Panda of the United States–based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on Twitter.
If such ICBMs are equipped with multiple warheads, that number could be enough to saturate existing U.S. missile defence systems, he added.
The Hwasong-17 was first tested last year.
The country has forged ahead with its ballistic missile programme, launching larger and more advanced missiles despite United Nations Security Council resolutions and sanctions.
“This time, Kim Jong Un let North Korea’s expanding tactical and long-range missile forces speak for themselves,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “The message Pyongyang wants to send internationally, demonstrating its capabilities to deter and coerce, will likely come in the form of solid-fuel missile tests and detonation of a miniaturised nuclear device.”
The Hwasong-17s were followed by what some analysts said could be a prototype or mockup of a new solid-fuel ICBM in canister launchers.
The canisterised ICBMs appeared different than those shown in a 2017 parade, Panda said.
Most of the country’s largest ballistic missiles use liquid fuel, which requires them to be loaded with propellant at their launch site – a time-consuming process.
Developing a solid-fuel ICBM has long been seen as a key goal for the country, as it could make its nuclear missiles harder to spot and destroy during a conflict.
It is unclear how close the suspected new missile could be to testing. North Korea has sometimes displayed mockups at the parades.