North Korea may be preparing to hold military parade, satellite imagery suggests

This week’s activity, compared to daily satellite imagery of the previous three military parades put on by North Korea, suggests at least two major candidate dates for a potential parade in February.

North Korea may be preparing to hold military parade, satellite imagery suggests
North Korea may be preparing to hold military parade, satellite imagery suggests

North Korea may be preparing to hold military parade, satellite imagery suggests

North Korea may be preparing to hold a military parade in the coming weeks, satellite imagery suggested on Wednesday, as soldier formations which have in recent years only been visible prior to similar events appeared at a parade training ground in Pyongyang in the last few days.

This week’s activity, compared to daily satellite imagery of the previous three military parades put on by North Korea, suggests at least two major candidate dates for a potential parade in February.

The scale of any potential parade in the coming weeks has still yet to be determined from the available imagery, though the occasion could serve as an opportunity for North Korea to show off the “new strategic weapon” promised “in the near future” by leader Kim Jong Un at December’s plenum.

28 large square groups of what are likely soldier formations showed up inside the replica Kim Il Sung Square at the Mirim Parade Training Facility in southeast Pyongyang in a January 22-dated medium-resolution satellite image provided by Planet Labs.

The same number in the same place have shown up in Kim Il Sung Square during actual military parades, and, notably, at Mirim in past daily Planet Labs imagery only in the weeks prior to the three military parades that have taken place since 2017.

Activity at Mirim picked up, in general, this year on January 15, with large numbers of what appear to be vehicles in a lot near the April 25 Hotel at the west end of the complex and along with the replica Kim Il Sung Square roads.

From January 13-22, various activity has been visible at the square also suggesting preparations for some sort of parade or marching event, but the Wednesday appearance of the soldier formations is the likeliest indicator of a military parade being in the works.

Prior to the September 9, 2018, military parade, activity at the Mirim practice grounds first appeared in mid-July, around 8-9 weeks before the parade, while the block soldier formations — seen again this week — first appeared in late August, or 2-3 weeks before the parade, the daily imagery shows.

The practice window before the February 8, 2018 and April 15, 2017 military parades were identical to each other, with activity beginning around 11 weeks prior and the soldier formations appearing around five weeks prior to the parades. If the practice schedule from the September 2018 parade holds, a parade could be held around 2-3 weeks from now.

Important dates within this window point to a parade possibly being held on February 8 to mark the 72nd founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) or on February 16 for the official 78th birthday of former leader Kim Jong Il.

The February 8, 2018 parade was held to mark the 70th KPA founding anniversary, moving the major army foundation holiday from the April 25 date that had been celebrated for the previous three decades. 

Neither date in this coming February is round-number anniversaries, however, which would break from precedent in the Kim Jong Un era. One prior example would be the September 9, 2011 parade celebrating the country’s 63rd founding anniversary.

And while the new imagery shows soldier formations practicing in the Mirim square — an activity which a review of all available daily imagery since 2017 shows has only occurred just before military parades — other features that have typically appeared in the Mirim complex before parades have yet to be identified in the recent medium-resolution imagery.

These include groups of military vehicles parked in the grass lots in the square and temporary shelters to house military equipment and vehicles such as transporter erector launchers (TELs).