On the eve of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime conducted a military parade, likely intended to demonstrate the nation’s defensive posture, despite hopes for improved relations by way of Olympic participation.

“I think in their view, Seoul allowed the North Koreans to partially hijack the Olympics because Seoul recognizes DPRK [North Korean] strength and made concessions out of fear,” said Denny Roy, an Asia Pacific security expert and senior fellow at the East-West Center, a Honolulu-based think tank. “Now Pyongyang wants to deepen that trend.”

As many as 13,000 troops were said to be present for the parade that was not broadcast live on North Korean state TV as many anticipated. However, at least one person was able to live stream portions of the tail end of the parade on Twitter.

Michael Spavor, a Canadian citizen that has earned the trust of the Kim regime over the years, took to Twitter and Periscope to show images and videos of North Korean equipment as it passed by a group of bystanders. Spavor was instrumental in helping Dennis Rodman get into North Korea, and can be heard shouting “thank you for your service” in Korean to Kim’s troops as they pass by on tanks, artillery, and dated military transports.

Notably absent from Spavor’s coverage of the event, however, were any signs of Kim’s crowning achievements: his intercontinental ballistic missiles. Oddly, North Korean watchdog 38 North also noted a lack of ICBMs in satellite imagery in the days leading up to the parade, though they did suggest that the missiles may have simply been being housed indoors.

According to Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. at 38 North, satellite images taken on Sunday showed “approximately 13,000 troops in various sized formations and approximately 150 towed and self-propelled artillery pieces, tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored fighting vehicles moving along the perimeter road in parade formation.”

He went on to point out, however, that in images taken that day and two days prior, no ballistic missiles are visible. “While normally ballistic missile or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launchers visible would arrive around a week before a parade, none have been seen yet anywhere on the parade ground or at the heavy equipment storage area.”

Shots of Hwasong-12s, 14s and Kim’s most recent and powerful missile platform, the Hwasong-15, have surfaced in main stream media outlets, having been released by North Korea’s state owned KCNA. It does seem likely that the missiles were included in the parade, as they represent the whole of Kim’s recent efforts and are the very cause of the ratcheting tensions on the entire peninsula throughout the past year, despite their absence on social media.

Shot of a Hwasong-15 ICBM in North Korea’s military parade, released on North Korean Central Television.

In effect, the parade itself was meant to be a sign that, despite entering into high level talks with their neighbors to the South, Kim has no plans to relinquish his nuclear assets. Nonetheless, the absence of these missiles in images leading up to the event, and their conspicuous omission from Kim-friendly Spavor’s Twitter coverage begs some questions about the platforms, and why they were kept away from portions of the parade going public. It is possible that Kim hopes to limit close inspection of these rocket platforms via media that hasn’t passed through governmental controls.

Much of the intelligence gathered regarding North Korea’s missile capabilities comes from publicly sourced intelligence gleaned from such content, and Kim may have been aware that analysts the world over were waiting intently for a good view of the Hwasong-15 in order to better assess how close North Korea is to fielding a fully functional ICBM.

Kim’s apparent choice to prevent such analysis could be telling. Many U.S. defense experts and analysts have suggested that even the Hwasong-15 lacks a survivable reentry vehicle, and no North Korean ballistic missile test has yet demonstrated a functioning targeting apparatus. It’s possible that Kim hoped to avoid drawing attention to any subtle changes made to the nose sections of his platforms as a result of continued progress.

Another question that arose when viewing North Korean Central Television’s coverage of the parade was what appears to be a never-before-seen missile platform.

Previously unknown North Korean missile platform shown on North Korean Central Television.

Much smaller than the intercontinental Hwasong-14s and 15s, this platform bears a striking resemblance to the Russian Iskander missile platform, begging questions about the possibility of Russia providing missile technology to Kim’s regime through back channels.

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Russian Iskander-M system that looks similar to the new North Korean missile platform. (Wikimedia Commons)

The resemblance, however, is entirely aesthetic, and without further analysis, any connections are tenuous at best.


Images courtesy of Korean Central Television.