SEOUL, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- North Korea showed off its latest military hardware, including a large new intercontinental ballistic missile, in a flood-lit parade to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party held in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Several analysts speculated that the new ICBM appeared to be an extended version of North Korea's Hwasong-15 missile, which was first tested in November 2017 and is believed to be capable of reaching the entire continental United States. What appeared to be four of the missiles were transported on new 11-axle transporter-erector-launcher vehicles.
Observers had been looking out for a provocative display of military strength from North Korea, including the unveiling of the "new strategic weapon" that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised at the end of last year.
"This would appear to be the 'new strategic weapon,'" wrote Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on Twitter.
Panda said the ICBM appeared to be the largest, road-mobile liquid-fuel missile in the world.
The parade was aired on state-run Korean Central Televsion on Saturday evening, in a delayed broadcast that was highly produced and edited with drone footage and quick cuts among multiple cameras. Seoul-based news and analysis site NK News provided a simultaneous YouTube stream of the event.
In addition to the ICBM, a new version of a submarine-launched ballistic missile was also unveiled, along with a slew of new hardware including tanks, armored personnel carriers, air defense systems and anti-tank missiles.
Battalions of soldiers, sailors and airmen marched in lockstep showing off their latest gear and rifles. North Korean MiG-29 jets with neon lighting on their wings flew in formation in the night sky, while other planes sent off colorful trails of sparks and formed images including the number "75" and the logo of the Workers' Party.
Earlier in the evening, a show of goose-stepping soldiers and military bands filled a brightly lit Kim Il Sung Square as fireworks exploded overhead and formations of performers spelled out dates such as "1945"and "2020" to mark the anniversary occasion.
The broadcast showed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appearing as a clock struck midnight, accepting flowers from waiting children and smiling and chatting with senior military officials. He wore a Western-style grey suit and gave an emotional speech to the assembled soldiers and audience in which he appeared to shed tears as he recounted the difficult year North Korea has faced.
"Every day and every step was truly arduous and trying from the outset of this year, in particular as unexpected grave challenges and obstacles cropped up," Kim said.
North Korea has been straining under ongoing sanctions and the economic impact of COVID-19. It closed its borders in January to prevent the spread of the virus, shutting off much of its vital trade with neighboring China.
The country was also battered by a series of late-summer typhoons that caused flooding and major damage to buildings, roads and crops.
Kim thanked and apologized to the soldiers who have been doing much of the recovery work in recent weeks, many of whom were still deployed in damaged areas.
"I feel deep regret for them, and I feel pain in my heart as they are not all here at this glorious night with us," he said.
Kim also thanked the citizens of North Korea for their efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and repeated the claim that the country has not had a single positive case. No one appeared to be wearing face masks at the tightly crowded event on Saturday.
"I thank them for their good health without any one of them having fallen victim to the malignant virus," he said.
The North Korean leader offered conciliatory remarks toward South Korea, wishing the country a fast recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and hoping that "the day would come when the North and South take each other's hand again."
Relations have been strained on the Korean peninsula over the past several months, with North Korea cutting off all communications with the South and blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office in June.
Last month, North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean fisheries official who had floated across the maritime boundary, prompting a rare apology from Kim.
He did not mention the United States by name, but Kim declared that the North's military buildup was intended as a means of deterrence and vowed not to use the weapons "as a means for a preemptive strike."
However, Kim warned that if any countries threatened military force against North Korea, the country "will enlist all our most powerful offensive strength in advance to punish them"