Rare look at weapons capabilities and key aides

Among the weapons on display at the parade in Pyongyang on Saturday was what appeared to be a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, said military specialists. Former spy chief Kim Won Hong, said to have been sacked in January, made a surpri
Among the weapons on display at the parade in Pyongyang on Saturday was what appeared to be a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, said military specialists.PHOTO: REUTERS
Among the weapons on display at the parade in Pyongyang on Saturday was what appeared to be a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, said military specialists. Former spy chief Kim Won Hong, said to have been sacked in January, made a surpri
Former spy chief Kim Won Hong, said to have been sacked in January, made a surprise appearance at the parade.

North Korea's massive military parade on Saturday offered weapons analysts a rare chance to gain new insights into the country's missile capabilities. Also of interest were the people standing next to leader Kim Jong Un during the parade. Who are his key aides now that several top officials have either been executed or removed from office? Here are some insights shared by North Korea watchers.

NEW MISSILES

Towards the end of the parade, what appeared to be a type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) caught the attention of military specialists.

"This appears to be a new ICBM," Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified South Korean military official as saying, adding that the missiles appeared longer than the North Korea's existing KN-08 or KN-14 ICBMs.

Mr Dave Schmerler, a research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the United States, described the new ICBM as a "frankenmissile", reported the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea has displayed the KN-08 missiles three times since 2012, and unveiled the KN-14, a new variant, in 2015.

Also on display for the first time were Pukguksong-2, an intermediate-range ballistic missile that North Korea tested in February, and the Pukguksong-1, its first submarine-launched ballistic missile.

NEW TRACKED LAUNCHER

A new type of Korean People's Army tracked TEL, or transporter erector launcher, made its first appearance at the weekend.

Analyst Ankit Panda wrote in The Diplomat that such a tracked TEL is a good investment for North Korea, which has a high ratio of unpaved to paved roads. Regular wheeled TEL trucks cannot go off-road without applying dangerous physical stress to the chassis of the missile, he said.

PURGED OFFICIALS RE-EMERGE

A surprise at the parade was the appearance of former spy chief Kim Won Hong, who was reportedly sacked in January after the agency came under scrutiny for power abuse and corruption. An official from South Korea's Unification Ministry told the Associated Press that his appearance shows he has been reinstated from a "purge state".

Mr Choe Ryong Hae, who was believed to have been sent for re-education in 2015, has also clearly regained his political footing.

Standing next to Mr Kim, he gave a speech at the parade, saying the country is ready to stand up to any threat posed by the US.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'Rare look at weapons capabilities and key aides'. Print Edition | Subscribe