North Korea held a huge military parade on Saturday evening, showcasing a range of new military hardware that took western observers by surprise including a main battle tank, updated surface-to-air missile defences and next generation rocket artillery systems. The highly-choreographed event unusually took place at night and it celebrated the 75th anniversary of the country's ruling Workers' Party of Korea. While the new military vehicles on display were unexpected, the sight of several massive intercontinental ballistic missiles mounted on 11-axle transporter erector launch vehicles (TEL) proved an even greater surprise and were the parade's biggest revelation.
The new ICBMs are unknown outside North Korea but they are thought to be a larger and improved version of the huge Hwasong-15 which is believed to have an operational range of 13,000km and is capable of striking any part of the continental United States. The Hwasong-15 was mounted on a nine-axle TEL while the previous Hwasong-14 was transported on a vehicle with eight axles, illustrating the sheer size of the new weapons observed on Saturday. It remains unclear whether the North Koreans designed and built the 11-axle TEL themselves or whether it was acquired from China.
Some observers have stated that the huge TEL is likely unwieldy and difficult to maneuver, making it potentially vulnerable to air attack. That is why the appearance Pukkuksong-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile was just as striking. Thought to be an advancement on the the existing Pukkuksong-3 (KN-26) which has a reported range of 1,900 kilometers, the new SLBM can be launched from the ocean depths where it is difficult to detect, providing the regime in Pyongyang with a devastating retaliatory card to play in the event of a war.
Using data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Missile Defense Project, the following infographic provides an overview of the key ballistic missiles in North Korea's arsenal, though the new weapons seen at the weekend are not included yet due to a lack of data concerning their range (as well as the identity of the 11-axle behemoth). Notably, the missile threat was already very real before this year's parade and it is continuing to develop. The Taepodong-2 was previously included on this infographic but it has now been removed as it was used as part of the Unha space program rather than as an ICBM.