SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will stage its first large-scale military parade in a decade on Tuesday, with weapons ranging from ballistic missiles to attack helicopters rolling through Seoul in a show of force as it takes a tougher stance against North Korea.
The parade marks the country’s Armed Forces Day, normally a muted event relative to the massive events the North has staged under leader Kim Jong Un that include strategic weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
The full-day event in Seoul will feature thousands of troops and South Korea’s home-grown tanks and self-propelled artillery as well as attack aircraft and drones, joined by 300 of the 28,500 U.S. soldiers based in the country, the Defence Ministry said.
The highlight will be a 2 kilometre (1.24 mile) parade through Seoul’s main commercial and business district to the bustling Gwanghwamun area that is the gate to a sprawling palace in the heart of Seoul.
South Korea last held a military street parade in 2013.
The event comes as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has taken a hawkish stance on North Korea, making displays of weapons and military drills a cornerstone of his strategy to counter the North’s evolving nuclear and missile programs.
Yoon has promised a swift and overwhelming response against any aggression by Pyongyang, and has actively reinforced a military alliance with Washington and Tokyo since taking office last year.
Tuesday’s parade will kick off at an airbase in Seongnam on the outskirts of Seoul, which will put on public display Hyunmoo missiles, L-SAM missile interceptors, F-35 jets and the country’s first domestically developed fighter, the KF-21.
Hyunmoo is one of South Korea’s latest missiles, which analysts say is an integral part of Seoul’s plans for striking the North during a conflict, while the L-SAM is designed to hit incoming missiles at altitudes of 50-60km.
The event will also feature a joint flyover by South Korean and U.S. military aircraft to demonstrate an “upgraded” combined defence posture, the ministry said.
The parade comes a week after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un returned from a trip to Russia, during which he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to boost military cooperation.
Yoon has said that if Russia helped North Korea enhance its weapons programs in return for assistance for its war in Ukraine, it would be “a direct provocation”.
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Jack Kim and Gerry Doyle)