Analysis: North Korea's Kim speaks softly, shows off new military might
By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea's unprecedented nightly military parade on Saturday showed an unusually wide range of new weapons, from a stunning "monster" ballistic missile to previously invisible main battle tanks.
The hardware, which is likely still in various stages of development, provided leader Kim Jong Un with an opportunity to show the world his cutting-edge military might while adding practical capabilities to North Korea's already formidable nuclear and conventional armed forces, experts say.
Kim is walking a fine line trying to increase pressure on the United States to ease sanctions without destroying relations with US President Donald Trump or Pyongyang's partners in China.
"Kim Jong Un's speech did not pose a threat to the United States, but described North Korea's nuclear forces as self-defensive," said Bruce Klingner, a retired CIA North Korea analyst who now works at the Heritage Foundation. "The clear message was that contrary to US claims, the North Korean nuclear threat has not been resolved."
The video from the parade hinted at a giant ICBM, potentially deadlier due to either multiple warheads or a larger payload, larger missile carriers, a next-generation missile launched from the submarine, and advances in conventional weapons.
The star of the show on Saturday was a massive, previously unseen ICBM, which was carried with an equally huge "Transporter-Erector-Launcher" (TEL) with 11 axes.
The unidentified missile is estimated to be 25 to 26 meters long and 2.5 to 2.9 meters in diameter and is the largest street-mobile ICBM in the world, according to military analysts.
Given that the Hwasong-15, the largest missile ever tested by North Korea, can already target anywhere in the U.S., the most likely practical use for the new ICBM would be the ability to carry multiple warheads, Melissa Hanham said, Deputy Director of the Open Nuclear Network.
It's much cheaper for North Korea to add warheads than it is for the US to add interceptors, said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).
"If each new North Korean ICBM can carry 3-4 warheads, we need about 12-16 interceptors for each missile," he said on Twitter. "The last time the US bought 14 interceptors it was $ 1 billion."
Other analysts said the missile could simply be engineered to carry a single larger warhead.
"A larger warhead doesn't necessarily mean multiple warheads, a technology I don't think North Korea has secured yet," said Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korean navy officer who is now a professor at the Far East Institute at Kyungnam University in Seoul.
Analysts said it was also noteworthy that North Korea appeared to have built the giant new TELs to carry the new missiles.
"They have a very limited supply of long TELs that they acquired from China," said another CNS researcher, Dave Schmerler, adding that the shortage of vehicles has limited the number of ICBMs that could be deployed . "The longer TELs we saw were locally made."
The enormous size of the new rocket and its carrier also has disadvantages, said Markus Schiller, a rocket expert based in Europe.
"Only special roads and bridges can support this when fueled," he said. "No sane person would propel this ticking bomb through the North Korean countryside."
It would likely take up to half a day to refuel such a large missile, making it difficult to use in a war quickly, which means the missile's primary purpose is likely to be a political warning, Schiller said.
North Korea also unveiled a new submarine missile (SLBM) called the Pukguksong-4.
"If the new SLBM is to be deployed, it may be for the new conventionally powered ballistic missile submarine that North Korea planned to build in July 2019," said analysts at 38 North, a US-based think tank.
At least some parts of the missile's motor housing appeared to be filament-wound, which would reduce the structural weight of the missile and allow for greater range and payload, the report said.
The parade showed what appeared to be new or updated weapons for North Korea's conventional military, one of the largest in the world.
The north showed row after row of multiple missile systems and short-range ballistic missiles that were extensively tested over the past year.
"My main concern was with the short-range solid-fuel tactical missiles that North Korea had focused on developing over the past 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 smoke grenade launchers that were more closely integrated into the design than previous imported models.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by William Mallard)
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