Military, Nuclear Weapons

Is North Korea Preparing for a Military Parade?

Key Findings

  • On the eve of President Donald Trump’s summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, commercial satellite imagery of the Mirim Parade Training Facility on the east side of Pyongyang acquired on April 7 shows that, although not conclusive, North Korea may be preparing for a parade to honor Kim Il-sung’s birthday (April 15) or Korean People’s Army (KPA) Foundation Day (April 25).1
  • The noted activity includes the presence of 217 military vehicles in the April 7th image. While once again not conclusive, it suggests the initial stages of a pattern previously observed at the Mirim Parade Training Facility before a military parade in the past.
  • North Korea often holds military parades on important holidays to showcase new weapons systems and military equipment.  In the aftermath of the Hanoi summit, and as U.S.-DPRK nuclear negotiations remain stalled, a military parade displaying new weapons systems, including long-range ballistic missiles, may indicate the regime’s retrenchment towards a hardline position and reluctance to denuclearize.
An overview of the Mirim Parade Training Facility as seen on April 7, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)

Mirim Parade Training Facility (Pyongyang)

Commercial satellite imagery of the Mirim Parade Training Facility on the east side of Pyongyang acquired on April 7 shows that, although not conclusive, North Korea may be in the early stages of preparing for a parade to honor either the birthday of Kim Il-sung (April 15) or KPA Foundation Day (April 25).

Historically, North Korea has often held military parades on important holidays and used these occasions to showcase new weapons systems and military equipment, messaging to the world its independence and military might.

The noted activity includes the presence of approximately 217 military vehicles in the April 7th image. While not conclusive, it suggests the initial stages of a pattern observed previously at the Mirim Parade Training Facility:

  • The facility generally remains very quiet until three-six weeks prior to a parade.
  • The preparatory activity features the arrival of large numbers of buses and military vehicles. These are delivering both parade organizers and military personnel who will participate in the parade. These personnel are then housed in April 25th Hotel (see below).
  • Additional military vehicles and personnel arrive and are deployed around the facility’s main training area with the vehicles in parking areas and personnel housed in a temporary tent city erected on the site of the Mirim heliport (on the east side of the facility). At this point, frequent practice parades are observed being held on the facility’s roads and within the replica of Kim Il-sung Square.
  • This phase is followed by the arrival of heavy military equipment (e.g., missile launchers, tanks, large self-propelled artillery, etc.) and continued practice parades. 

A military parade that features new weaponry and ballistic missiles might complicate the diplomacy following the Hanoi summit. Even prototypes of ballistic missiles on TELs would signal North Korean intransigence and a hardening position as diplomats seek to pick up the pieces after the absence of an agreement in Vietnam.

A view of the first group of military vehicles and the April 25th Hotel as seen on April 7, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)
A view of a second group of military vehicles and the main training area and a replica of Kim Il-sung Square, where practice parades take place, as seen on April 7, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)
A view of the eastern section of the Mirim Parade Training Facility on April 7, 2019, showing the areas where temporary housing and military vehicle storage have been located in the past. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)

Immediately south of the Mirim Parade Training Facility are the Mirim Riding Academy and Mirim Flying Club airfield. Both of these entities have occasionally contributed contingents to military parades during the past five years. 

A view of the southern section of the facility which includes the Mirim Riding Academy as seen on April 7, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)

For example, a cavalry honor guard from the riding academy led the 2015 parade and a flight of ultralight aircrafts conducted an overflight during that parade. The April 7th image shows riders on horseback at the riding academy and ten ultralight aircraft at the airfield—neither, however, is conclusive of parade preparations.

A view of the southern section of the facility, which includes the Mirim Flying Club and Airfield as seen on April 7, 2019. Ten ultralight aircraft can be seen in front of the aircraft shelters. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)

References

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  1. This date commemorates the founding of North Korea’s Anti-Japanese Guerrilla Army.