North Korea's military parade on Feb. 8 featured much of what we've come to expect from Pyongyang — grandiose speeches, choreographed crowds, and a procession of missiles.
But it also featured a mystery missile never before seen.
While many analysts focused on the big intercontinental missiles, like the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, and the threat they pose to the U.S. mainland, a smaller missile slipped by relatively unnoticed.
Here are a few shots of the new system:
While everyone's still slack-jawed over the sight of four massive Hwasong-15 missile on their TELs, I think its important to point out a far more shocking newcomer is what appears to be a copy of the Russian 9K720 Iskander. pic.twitter.com/aDZBtOsYWH
— Oryx (@oryxspioenkop) February 8, 2018
Take a look at the Iskander below:
9T250-1 Transporter and loader vehicle for Iskander-M (Image Wikipedia)
Justin Bronk, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that North Korea's mystery missiles "look enormously like Iskander missiles and not a missile that [North Korea has] been seen with before."
Bronk pointed out that the former Soviet Union and now Russia have a long established history of helping North Korea with its missile program. Talented engineers left unemployed after the collapse of the Soviet Union often found good paying work in North Korea, according to Bronk.
But the Iskander isn't a Cold War design. If Russia collaborated with North Korea as recently as the Iskander, it would have huge geopolitical implications, and would strain an already fraught U.S.-Russian relationship.
The new missile is not confirmed to be a Russian design. Mike Elleman, a missile expert at the Institute of International Strategic Studies, said the missile was "inconsistent with Iskander" and that it was just as likely a clone of South Korea's Hyunmoo-2 missile system. North Korea has been known to hack South Korean defense information.
Regardless of origin, the little missile may be a big problem for the US
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ricardo Arzadon, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics journeyman, stands outside a hardened aircraft shelter during VIGILANT ACE 18 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 4, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman)
Whether Russia or South Korea was the origin of the information for the mystery missile, it poses a major threat to U.S. forces in South Korea and in the region.
Bronk explained that North Korea's current fleet of ballistic missiles don't have the accuracy of more modern systems like the Iskander. If North Korea deployed the new, more accurate ballistic missiles, it could lay the groundwork for an opening salvo on an attack on South Korea that could blindside and cripple the U.S.
With a large number of precise, short-range missiles, which the mystery missile appears to be, U.S. missile defenses could become overwhelmed. U.S. military bases, airfields, and depots could all fall victim to the missile fire within the first few minutes of a conflict.
Whatever the origin, the appearance of this mystery missile likely has large geopolitical and tactical implications for the U.S.'s push to denuclearize Pyongyang by force or diplomacy.