On April 25 a nighttime military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, celebrated 90 years since the formation of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), which since 1948 has been the official armed forces of the country but previously operated as a resistance force to Japanese imperial rule. The parade saw a range of armaments displayed including the new Hwasong-17 intercontinental range ballistic missile and the older Hwasong-15 both of which are capable of delivering nuclear strikes to the United States mainland according to American intelligence reports. Following multiple tests of hypersonic glide vehicle armed ballistic missiles, the first of which took place in September 2021, North Korea for the first time included such missiles in a military parade. Mounted on twelve wheel transporter erector launch vehicles, the missiles have increasingly represented a point of pride in the country’s armed forces which are the only operator of a ground launched medium range hypersonic glider other than China’s People’s Liberation Army – which unveiled the DF-17 missile in 2019. The range of the new missile, and whether it can engage enemy warships or targets further away than Japan, remain uncertain.
Glide vehicles on ballistic missiles differ from hypersonic cruise missiles, flying at higher altitudes throughout their trajectories and tending to have higher manoeuvrability, and their deployment in the Korean arsenal provides a means of countering modern air defences and more reliably striking American targets in the region with both conventional and nuclear payloads. With the technologies for such glide vehicles having been developed, it is likely that they will be integrated onto a wider range of KPA armaments such as submarine launched and intercontinental ranged ballistic missiles. At the KPA’s anniversary parade North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un pledged that Pyongyang would “continue to take steps to strengthen and develop our nation’s nuclear capabilities at the fastest pace,” stressing that “the nuclear force of the Republic must be ready to exercise its responsible mission and unique deterrence anytime.” At a time of rising international tensions, he further stressed that the fundamental mission of the Korean nuclear force was to deter war.