29.08.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

July 27, 2023 Arms Show and Parade

After discussing the Russian military delegation’s visit to North Korea (DPRK), let us go over what was displayed at the Weapons and Equipment Exhibition 2023 and military parade, which took place on the evening of July 27 in Pyongyang.

The military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War was a solemn event in and of itself, with columns marching to represent the KPA units that had distinguished themselves most during the 1950–53 battles and other branches of the military at the time, from railroad workers who were able to maintain the transportation network in the face of total US air supremacy to young guerrillas or counterintelligence forces.

In addition, the parade began with an analog of Russia’s “immortal regiment”: a column with portraits of anti-Japanese and anti-American military leaders, including Kim Il Sung, Kim Chaek, Kang Gong, Kim Il, and Ryu Kyong-Su, as well as no less distinguished home front and military-industrial complex figures.

The parade was attended by Kim Jong-un, the supreme commander of the armed forces, Ri Pyong-chol, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), First Deputy Director of the WPK Organization and Guidance Department ((the Party’s chief curator of military issues), and virtually the entire military leadership of the country, as well as members of the military delegation of the Russian Federation and the Party and government delegation of the People’s Republic of China, war veterans, honored workers of the war years, “activists who show high morality in patronage of the army, honored workers, labor innovators, exemplary servicemen, descendants of fallen patriots and other participants of the solemn events.”

The parade, whose broadcast is available online, began with a salute and an air display, during which “the new strategic reconnaissance drone and multi-purpose attack drone, developed, produced, and entering service with the Air Force of our army, made a demonstration flight.”

The historical part of the parade was followed by a march of columns of selected and iconic units up to the Party Central Committee’s security department, or “the 41st Air Assault Brigade, which are in full combat readiness for a surprise attack on enemy positions with our original method of fighting and the offensive spirit of “one against a hundred,” to inflict an unimaginable terrible defeat on the enemy.” There were representatives of both the army and other security forces, including territorial defense forces, the so-called Worker-Peasant Red Guards.

There was enough artillery and “columns of M2020 main battle tanks, customized to satisfy the generation of the war’s winners who had to halt the offensive where the Korean South Sea was a stone’s throw away,” as well as “tactical missiles and long-range cruise missiles in full launch readiness.” Special mention was made of the new ICBMs: the liquid-fueled Hwasong-17, which is the main vehicle of the Republic’s strategic armed forces, and the solid-fueled Hwasong-18, called “Juche Topol.”

In addition to these, Russian military experts Vladimir Khrustalev and Yuri Lyamin drew attention to:

  • Unmanned Underwater Nuclear Attack Craft Haeil,k.a. the Kimseidon, capable of carrying nuclear warheads
  • A hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), mounted not on the liquid-powered Hwasong-8, but on the Hwasong-12 ballistic missile. The glider itself has been changed from what was shown earlier.
  • KN-24, officially the Hwasongpho-11Na (Hwasong-11 improved), Kim-ATACMS, made like wheeled vehicles rather than tracked.
  • The KN-23 “Kimskander” and the famous 600-mm MLRS KN-25, also wheeled and not tracked
  • strategic reconnaissance and multi-purpose attack drones, which may be considered the main debut of the parade.

Experts were waiting for Kim Jong-un’s speech, but Defense Minister Kang Sun-nam delivered the speech, noting that the significance of the event is truly sacred and immortal. The victory of the DPRK “defended the people’s dignity and honor and the country’s environment for independent development, checked the US imperialists’ implementation of strategy for world dominance, and prevented a new world war to safeguard the peace of mankind.”

However, the US imperialist warmongers and the group of traitor Yoon Suk-yeol continue to play dangerous war games that may incite an unprecedented nuclear war in the Korean peninsula with the use of their military muscle against the DPRK, not hesitating to make reckless remarks and even daring talk about the “end of the regime in our country.” He called the US-South Korean Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) a “nuclear consultative group” with North Korea as its target.

At this crucial juncture, Kang “sternly stated” that the North’s military action might go beyond its defensive capabilities if the sides continued to engage in military conflict. If the United States of America attempts to use armed forces against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the former “will face an unimaginable and unforeseen crisis.” “Our revolutionary armed forces will never tolerate any military acts encroaching upon the sovereignty and security of the state, and it is up to the enemies to decide which path to take.”

As Kang Sun-nam noted, the main question today is not whether a nuclear war will occur on the Korean Peninsula, but who will strike first and how. The US has no chance of survival in the event of a nuclear strike on the DPRK, as the DPRK’s strategic nuclear forces are capable of reaching the US mainland.

The day before, KCNA reported that on July 26, Kim Jong-un went with officials of the Russian military delegation to an arms exhibition where the most recent DPRK military equipment was on display. Including the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) mentioned by the author earlier in the parade, which resemble the American RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-9 Reaper, with explanations indicating that both vehicles are completing flight tests. The North Korean RQ-4 Global Hawk copy is designated Morning Star-4 (Saetbyol-4), and the copy of the MQ-9 is designated Saetbyol-9. They were similar to the American AGM-114 Hellfire and the Iranian Ghaem-114 (based on the studied American AGM-114).

Satellite images of a North Korean air base recently revealed flight tests of MQ-9 and RQ-4-sized drones. They also showed footage of the flight at the Weapons and Equipment Exhibition 2023.

There were many videos in general, including the first public demonstration of North Korea’s main battle tank active defense system or the famous in narrow circles multi-purpose tactical guided missiles capable of being used as both ATGMs and antiship short-range missiles up to 25 km (analogous to Israeli Spike-NLOS, ALAS, and other systems with operator control and data transmission from the missile to the screen). As reported by the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, it can be deployed against main battle tanks, IFVs, APCs, small ships, stationary protected strongholds, and other targets; as carriers, helicopters, boats, and armored personnel carriers can be used, on the roofs of which a rotating turret with an opening top and eight launch containers is mounted.

The presentation video from the exhibition demonstrated for the first time a version based on a light two-axle armored vehicle; a missile launched from it shattered a mock-up of the South Korean K2 Black Panther tank.

Even the video and pictures captured how amiably and excitedly Kim Jong-un was discussing the new weaponry with Sergey Shoigu. This makes sense given that Kim is not just referring to them as the nation’s leader but also as someone with military-technical expertise who can provide superior insight and explanation.

The parade and exhibition were discussed in two primary ways in the ROK and Western media. The first is the new drones, which most anti-Pyongyang experts dismissed as non-flying mock-ups and the result of hacker-assisted theft. However, Vladimir Khrustalev argues that the majority of UAV models in each of their classes have a similar appearance and shape.  “There’s usually a first representative of a class that sets the fashion, and subsequently a mass of similar looking vehicles from those who build them afterwards.” Additionally, Pyongyang can leverage the location similarity between the Korean Air Force’s tail number and insignia and Global Hawk in its reconnaissance efforts against the South.

Kim Yelsoo, a senior security expert at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs, notes that Pyongyang is attempting to secure advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets in the face of better-equipped South Korean and American forces. The development of UAVs makes sense given that Pyongyang announced at the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in early 2021 that it was working on a surveillance drone with a range of 500 kilometers.

Nam Chang-hee, professor of international politics at Inha University, adds that “North Korea has difficulty detecting and tracking moving targets on the ground and at sea, though it may have coordinates for fixed ground-based targets… Given the military imperative to secure a multilayered, faceted ISR construct, it is a textbook step by the North to acquire such a drone.”

Regarding the capabilities of the Saetbyol, Yang Uk, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, believes that North Korea’s newly developed drones are just doppelgangers of US drones, and their capabilities will not match the advanced capabilities of their US counterparts. “As we’ve seen through the North’s failed satellite launch, the regime does not have the technology to develop cameras that are capable of conducting military reconnaissance works,” Yang told the Korea Times. However, the North may use the replicated drones to confuse the South Korean military, which requires Seoul to be better prepared against such tactics.

Also of the opinion that Pyongyang could not have copied US technology is Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum: “If you look at the photos, the drones are not equipped with ultra-high frequency (UHF) antennae, which means that they cannot conduct long-range operations.”

The second area is military cooperation between the Russian Federation and the DPRK, which has been declared a fact to such an extent that the South Korean Foreign Ministry has stated its intention to thoroughly review all circumstances, information, and facts regarding North Korea’s alleged arms shipments to Russia before deciding whether to impose additional unilateral sanctions on people and entities.

The Defense Ministry of South Korea demanded that all arms deals with the DPRK end on July 31, 2023. “Our government maintains the position that the illicit weapons trade with North Korea, which directly violates UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions and harms peace and stability in the international community, must be stopped immediately,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-gyu said.

On August 1, according to Pentagon spokesperson Gen. Pat Ryder, “the potential weapons trade between North Korea and Russia demonstrates the dire situation Russia finds itself in amid its ongoing war against Ukraine.” The logic is wonderful! “Certainly, we have seen in the past Russia looking to try to obtain munitions from countries like North Korea, (never actually proven speculation)” and “I don’t have any updates to provide beyond what we said previously on this topic (i.e., no new evidence found). But again, this “highlights the dire situation that Russia finds itself in when it comes to resupplying and refreshing its munitions capabilities.”

The conservative JoongAng Ilbo came out with an article titled “A Dangerous Trade Between Kim and Putin.”  “Because Russia is running short of troops and weapons as the war continues, it can receive conventional ammunition and drones from North Korea in return for providing sophisticated technology on weapons like miniaturization of nuclear warheads, atmospheric reentry and space launch vehicles.”

The center-right Korea Times sees the Russian defense minister’s visit to North Korea as an attempt to gain Pyongyang’s support for the war in Ukraine, suggesting that China, which was seen as North Korea’s closest ally, was taking more cautious steps by sending delegations of less senior officials than on previous occasions. The paper noted that the Russian delegation received more attention and photos in the DPRK’s propaganda media than the Chinese delegation, and a quoted expert stated that “the North’s technological setbacks in its pursuit of intercontinental ballistic missiles, spy satellites, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles can be addressed quickly if there is Russian assistance.”

Russian experts, on the other hand, note that the North Korean line of weapons is not a clone of the Russian one and that arms trade between the two countries has limited applicability, not to mention technical difficulties. Let’s not forget that the connection between the two countries is over one narrow railroad bridge. They interpreted Kang’s words as a normal response appropriate for a holiday; Pyongyang has previously warned that a nuclear answer awaits the adversary in the event of military provocations.


Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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