Timeline of North Korean Military Parade Preparations

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.

North Korea’s recent announcement that various events will be held on February 8 to celebrate the foundation of the Korean People’s Army (KPA)[1] has led to speculation that a military parade will likely be a part of the celebration. The current level of activity observed at the Mirim Parade Training Facility on the east side of Pyongyang offers support for this belief.[2] Commercial satellite imagery has shown a steady build-up of personnel and equipment at this training ground since November 2017, with parade practice currently underway.

These military parades are of great interest to outsiders, as North Korea has frequently used them to showcase new military equipment and its latest weapons systems. Because of their high profile nature, North Korean troops train and practice intricate formations for months in advance to ensure flawless performances.

If the North goes ahead with a military parade on February 8, coinciding with the opening of the Pyeongchang Olympics, it will likely warrant much criticism from skeptics of inter-Korean dialogue. However, for domestic audiences, it would cap off a year of dramatic progress in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as more general military developments.

Figure 1. On November 24, 2017, a large number of buses were parked in front of the April 25 Hotel at the Mirim Parade Training Facility. These are believed to have been for meetings of the parade organizers. Figure 2. By January 10, 2018, considerable progress had been made assembling troops and equipment for the upcoming parade. Vehicles and equipment are assembled in two parking areas, troops are marching in formation on the roads, other units are in formation in the replica of Kim Il Sung Square, and the shelters for heavy equipment have been erected—although no heavy equipment appears present.

Parade Preparations

Preparations for North Korean military parades have followed a consistent pattern over the past 15 years. The process generally starts four to six months in advance with a build-up of equipment and personnel at the Mirim Parade Training Facility, and with active training being conducted over the last two to four months of that period. Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that this same pattern is currently underway.

Timeline

The process generally starts with a decision from Kim Jong Un to conduct the parade. Once the decision is handed down, the responsible committees from the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), Korean People’s Army (KPA) and government meet to decide upon the specifics. Orders are then issued to concerned organizations, the schedule set, and the organizers are bused in for a meeting at the Mirim Parade Training Facility.

Figure 3. In November 2017, there were approximately 67 buses and 13 smaller vehicles in the parking area in front of the April 25 Hotel. These are believed to have been related to planning meetings by the parade organizers. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 4. Four weeks later, the parking area has only 8 buses and 2 smaller vehicles present. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 5. By January 2018, no buses or vehicles are present in the parking area. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Note: Hover over slideshow and click on left/right arrows to navigate.

One-to-three months before the parade, specially selected teams from KPA units begin to arrive. These are generally infantry-type units or units that will have personnel marching in the parade. The units are typically brought in by trucks that are parked at the training facility and housed locally,often at the April 25 Hotel.

Figure 6. In October 2015, four days before the parade to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party, the parking lots are full and formations are seen throughout the central training area. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 7. In March 2017, three weeks before the April 15 parade to celebrate the Day of the Sun, there appears to be a full dress rehearsal taking place. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 8. In late November 2017, no troops or equipment had yet arrived at the central training area. Note: The replica of Kim Il Sung Square and the reviewing stand are clearly visible. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 9. By January 2018, the northeast parking area of the central training area is full of trucks and there are small formations of towed artillery and air defense vehicles, as well as formations of troops on parade in the northwest sections. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 10. Four days later, there are 28 formations of troops and 3 formations of what are probably military bands in front of the reviewing stand. On the perimeter road, there are an additional 4 formations of towed artillery and air defense vehicles, as well as 5 formations of troops and what appear to be 2 formations of Korean Workers’ Party members. The northeast parking area remains full of trucks, while the northwest parking area has fewer small formations of vehicles and formations (the others being in formation on the perimeter road). Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

During the same period, but typically after the first ground units arrive, specially selected parade teams from light artillery and anti-aircraft units arrive with small detachments of equipment.

Figure 11. In late November 2017, no vehicles were present in the northwest parking area of the central training area. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 12. Four weeks later, the first 100 truck trucks had arrived, bringing troops to practice for the parade. There were several loose troop formations and a single parade formation present on the perimeter road. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 13. In January 2018, the northwest parking area shows approximately 400 trucks present, indicating that a major portion of the ground troops scheduled to participate in the parade had arrive and were practicing. There is a single troop formation marching on the perimeter road. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 14. Four days later, there were no changes in the number of trucks present. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 15. In late November 2017, there were no vehicles or equipment present in the northeast parking area of the central training area. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 16. In January 2018, there were 5 formations of towed artillery and air defense vehicles present—with approximately 55 pieces of equipment in the northeast parking area. Several troop formations and numerous individuals were also seen on the central square and roads. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 17. Four days later, 2 formations of air defense vehicles are present—with approximately 19 pieces of equipment. Several troop formations and numerous individuals were also seen on the central square. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

As these units arrive, they begin practicing formations and timing around the facility roads and into the center of the training facility, which is a replica of Kim Il Sung Square that includes the reviewing stand where Kim Jong Un is likely to be situated. Music and choreography are also practiced during this stage.

Figure 18. In late November 2017, there were no troops or vehicles present in the southwest parking area of the central training area. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 19. Four weeks later, approximately 22 vehicles were present and there were several loose troop formations and a single parade formation present on the facility’s roads. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 20. In early January 2018, there were no vehicles or troops in this area. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 21. Four days later, 4 groups of towed artillery in parade formation were present on the perimeter road. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Parade teams from the Korean Workers’ Party will also be bused in to practice marching at Kim Il Sung Square with the military units. This occurs more frequently during the later stages of parade preparation.

Figure 22. In late November 2017, the central training area was still vacant. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 23. In early January 2018, the central training square had 30 troop formations lined up on the central square and marching on the facility roads. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 24. Four days later, there were 31 troop formations lined up on the central square (the 3 larger formations are probably military bands) and 3 troop formations with 2 formations of what are likely Korean Workers’ Party members marching on the facility roads. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

As the date for the parade draws close, additional teams—now including mechanized and armor units—arrive and are integrated into the practice sessions. The equipment for these units is parked along the roads on the east side of the training facility and personnel are housed locally.

If a large parade is planned, housing fills up and a “tent city” is erected at the east end of the facility at the Mirim Heliport and the small airfield used by the Mirim Skydiving Club.[3] This tent city consists of a collection of housing, mess, medical, and logistic and maintenance components that appear to be organized by unit and branch of service.

Figure 25. In October 2015, just 4 days before the parade to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party, a large “tent city” covering 32 acres was clearly visible, as were 7 UAV launchers in the heavy equipment storage area. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 26. In March 2017, there appeared to be a full dress rehearsal taking place on three weeks before the April 15th parade to celebrate the Day of the Sun. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 27. In late November 2017, no activity was observed at the Mirim Heliport, small airfield used by the Mirim Skydiving Club (also used by a radio-controlled model airplane club and UAVs), or the storage area for heavy equipment. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 28. Seven weeks later, the only significant change to the area has been the erection of shelters for heavy equipment—although none appears present. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

The final units to arrive, typically one-to-three weeks before the parade, are long-range self-propelled artillery and UAV platforms, and surface-to-air missile (SAM) and ballistic missile launchers. These are housed in the southeast corner of the training facility within camouflaged shelters.

Figure 29. In October 2015, four days before the parade to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party, there were 7 UAV launchers, several trucks and a number of smaller shelters at the heavy equipment storage area. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 30. In March 2017, three weeks before the April 15th parade to celebrate the Day of the Sun, the heavy equipment storage area had been enlarged and 7 unidentified trucks were present. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 31. In late November 2017, a steel framework was present but not covered at the storage area for heavy equipment. No vehicles or equipment were present. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 32. By early January 2018, several shelters were present, many had already been covered. A crane was working on placing roofing material or tarps on the remaining shelters and a few smaller shelters had been erected in the northwest corner of the area. Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 33. Four days later, a single truck and 1-2 small vehicles are present, but there are no indications of the arrival of any heavy equipment. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

As new units and parade teams arrive they are integrated into the existing rehearsals. Usually, in the week before the parade, final maintenance and preparations are completed, parade uniforms and equipment are handed out and full-dress rehearsals are conducted regularly. These full-dress rehearsals are frequently conducted at night to limit observation.

On the day of the parade, all units are organized by parade order at the training facility and at the appropriate time proceed, via the Okryu Bridge, to the parade route on Sungri Street for the parade through Kim Il Sung Square. Some of the units are transported by bus or truck to holding areas along the parade route to await their turn to march.

As individual units pass the reviewing stand, they are moved onto side streets south of the Square and parked until the parade is finished. Following the parade, many of the military units move back to the Mirim Parade Training Facility, although some of the heavier units (e.g., ballistic missile launchers) cover their equipment with tarps and move back to their home bases.

Figure 34. On April 15, 2017, intricate formations were successfully conducted in Kim Il Sung Square during the parade to celebrate Day of the Sun (Kim Il Sung’s birthday). Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 35. Tanks, heavy artillery and ballistic missile launchers headed into Kim Il Sung Square. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 36. Ballistic missile launchers lined-up before heading towards Kim Il Sung Square. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 37. Marchers and floats headed into Kim Il Sung Square. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 38. Marchers and floats headed towards Kim Il Sung Square via the Okryu Bridge. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 39. Trucks were parked on Othan-Kangan Street after dropping off troops to participate in the parade. Pleaides © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

  1. [1]

    The original foundation date of the Korean People’s Army was February 8. In 1978, Kim Il Sung reassigned it to April 25—the purported date of the establishment of his Anti-Japanese Guerilla Army in 1932. On January 23, 2018, the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee changed the date back to February 8.

  2. [2]

    The Mirim Parade Training Facility is located on the east side of Pyongyang on the site of the former Mirim Air Force Base that has been inactive since at least the early 1990s. The former runways and taxiways have been shortened and reconfigured as roads and the center rebuilt as a replica of Kim Il Sung Square—complete with reviewing stand—where parades are conducted. Subsequently, a number of structures were constructed around the former airbase including the April 25 Hotel, KPA Science and Technology Hall, Mirim Riding Club, Mirim heliport, Mirim Skydiving Club, etc. The skydiving club has a small airfield (approximately 200 meters long) that is also used for flying radio-controlled model airplanes, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc. Just south of the original airbase, an airfield for the Mirim Flying Club was constructed for their ultralights. Both the Mirim Riding Academy and Mirim Flying Club airport have contributed contingents to recent parades.

  3. [3]

    This field is also used by a radio-controlled model airplane club and for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). There is an active radio-control model airplane club in Pyongyang and the sport is popular at several universities in the country.


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