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Is North Korea Preparing for a Military Parade?
Special Contribution
By Victor Cha
CSIS Korea Chair
Mirim Parade Training Facility in North Korea

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.

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.

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.

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.

The above writer, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., is an internationally recognized analyst, award-winning author, and lecturer on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs and ballistic missile development in developing countries. He is concurrently senior fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS); senior adviser and imagery analyst for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK); author for IHS Markit (formerly the Jane’s Information Group); and publisher and editor of KPA Journal. Formerly, he has served as founder and CEO of KPA Associates, LLC, senior imagery analyst for 38 North at Johns Hopkins SAIS, chief analytics officer and co-founder of AllSource Analysis, Inc., and senior all-source analyst for DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center.

And the co-writer, Victor Cha, is a senior adviser and the inaugural holder of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.



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Dr. Victor Cha is Korea Chair of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). He earned his MA from Oxford, and Ph.D. from Columbia. Many books he authored include the award-winning author of "Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle." As prolific writers of articles on int'l relations in such journals as Foreign Affairs and The Washington Quarterly, he also interacts frequently with CNN, NYT, and Washington Post as well as Korean media.

 

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