South Korea holds rare military parade, sending a message to North Korea

South Korean airmen march in a military parade for Armed Forces Day on Tuesday in Seoul. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
South Korean airmen march in a military parade for Armed Forces Day on Tuesday in Seoul. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
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SEOUL, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- South Korea held its first military parade in a decade on Tuesday, showing off its latest missiles and weapons in an event that celebrated Armed Forces Day and sent a clear warning to North Korea.

The ceremony kicked off on a rainy morning at Seoul Air Base in the south of the city, where some 6,000 troops marched in formation and dozens of rocket launchers, K2 battle tanks and K9 self-propelled howitzers rolled by. A planned airshow that included F-35A stealth fighters and South Korea's homegrown KF-21 jets was canceled due to the weather.

Among the cutting-edge hardware in the spotlight were South Korea's new Hyunmoo surface-to-surface missiles and its Long-range Surface-to-Air Missile system, or L-SAM, both seen as centerpieces of Seoul's response to the nuclear threat from North Korea.

In a speech, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol praised the development of the country's military over the past 75 years, saying it has "grown into a powerful force in the world that is feared by its enemies and trusted by its people."

He also touted a strengthening military alliance with the United States and Japan, while offering a pointed warning to the nuclear-armed North.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol makes brief remarks in Seoul at the end of the Armed Forces Day parade. He earlier warned North Korea against using nuclear weapons, saying it would mean the end of its regime. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol makes brief remarks in Seoul at the end of the Armed Forces Day parade. He earlier warned North Korea against using nuclear weapons, saying it would mean the end of its regime. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

"The North Korean regime must clearly understand that nuclear weapons cannot protect its security," Yoon said. "If North Korea uses nuclear weapons, we will put an end to the North Korean regime through an overwhelming response from the ROK-U.S. alliance."

The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.

A soldier in an armored vehicle waves to spectators during a military parade in downtown Seoul, the first in ten years. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
A soldier in an armored vehicle waves to spectators during a military parade in downtown Seoul, the first in ten years. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

Yoon added that Seoul's partnership with Washington has been "upgraded to a nuclear-based alliance," referencing an extended deterrence guarantee from the United States and the establishment of the bilateral Nuclear Consultative Group in April.

"We will build an integrated response system that combines U.S. nuclear assets and our non-nuclear assets," Yoon said.

Seoul showed off its latest military hardware during a ceremony on Tuesday, including new Hyunmoo missiles, in a direct warning to North Korea. Photo by Yonhap
Seoul showed off its latest military hardware during a ceremony on Tuesday, including new Hyunmoo missiles, in a direct warning to North Korea. Photo by Yonhap

In the afternoon, a street parade was held in downtown Seoul as a steady rain continued. Around 4,000 soldiers and cadets, including 300 U.S. combat troops, and 170 pieces of equipment took part, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry.

South Korea traditionally holds a parade every five years to mark Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the founding of the country's military and officially falls on Oct. 1. In 2018, however, no event was held during a period of rapprochement with the North under then-president Moon Jae-in.

A spectator waves a South Korean flag in the rain during a military parade in Seoul Tuesday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
A spectator waves a South Korean flag in the rain during a military parade in Seoul Tuesday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

Spectators holding umbrellas lined the streets along the 1.25-mile route from Sungnyemun Gate to Gwanghwamun Square, waving South Korean flags as armored vehicles and formations of troops passed by. But while the atmosphere was festive, not all attendees were thrilled to see the show of military might in their city.

"This parade is not just a threat to North Korea -- it is threatening our own people," Moon A-young, a representative of activist group Peacemomo, told UPI. "All actions are mutual. This arms race is putting the whole region in danger."

An armored column is on display at a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of Armed Forces Day at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on Tuesday. Pool Photo by Yonhap
An armored column is on display at a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of Armed Forces Day at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on Tuesday. Pool Photo by Yonhap

Tuesday's show of military might comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wrapped up a six-day visit to Russia last week amid speculation that a weapons deal with Moscow is in the works.

The White House has said that Russia wants to acquire artillery and other munitions for its war in Ukraine, while North Korea is seeking advanced know-how for its space and missile programs.

South Korean Air Force personnel hand out flags at the Armed Forces Day parade in Seoul on Tuesday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
South Korean Air Force personnel hand out flags at the Armed Forces Day parade in Seoul on Tuesday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

Yoon warned last week that Seoul and its allies would not "stand idly by" if Russia gives North Korea technical assistance in developing weapons of mass destruction, calling any deal a "direct provocation."