SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday confirmed plans to launch its first military spy satellite in June and described those capabilities as crucial to monitoring “reckless” U.S. military exercises with their rival, South Korea.
The statement came a day after North Korea informed Japanese authorities that it planned to launch the satellite between May 31 and June 11, and that the event could affect the waters of the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and east of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he had ordered Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to shoot down the satellite or the debris, if any entered Japanese territory.
In comments published in state media, senior North Korean military official Ri Pyong Chol chastised the combined U.S.-South Korean military drills, which Pyongyang has long described as rehearsals for an invasion. He said North Korea sees space reconnaissance as “indispensable” to monitor in real time the “dangerous military acts of the United States and its vassal forces”, which he said “openly reveal their reckless ambition to assault”.
Since the start of 2022, North Korea has tested around 100 missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the American mainland and a series of launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on targets in South Korea. . North Korea has said its intensified testing activity is meant to counter joint military drills by its rivals as it continues to use those drills as a pretext to advance its arsenal of nuclear-capable weapons.
Last week, the South Korean and American military conducted large-scale live-fire exercises near the border with North Korea as part of the first of five rounds of exercises marking 70 years since the establishment of their covenant.
Ri said the expansion of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, combined with declared U.S. plans to send nuclear-capable submarines to dock in South Korea and increased U.S. reconnaissance aircraft activity in region point to a “sinister intent” to prepare for military pre-action against the North. While Washington and Seoul describe their regular military exercises as defensive, they have expanded their training since 2022 to deal with evolving threats from the North.
“The worrying security environment prevailing in the region due to the dangerous military actions of the United States and its vassal forces obliges us to guarantee, as the most urgent task, a reliable means of reconnaissance and information capable of gathering information about the enemy’s military acts in real time,” Ri said.
“(North Korea’s) No. 1 military reconnaissance satellite to be launched in June and various reconnaissance assets to be recently tested are indispensable for tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling and coping with the advance in real time to the dangerous military acts of the United States. and his vassal forces,” he added. Ri did not specify what other means of reconnaissance the North would have planned.
The North Korean satellite launch would use long-range missile technology prohibited by previous UN Security Council resolutions, although previous missile and rocket tests have demonstrated North Korea’s ability to send a satellite in space.
Spy satellites are part of an array of high-tech weapon systems that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has publicly pledged to develop. Other weapon systems on its wish list include solid-propellant ICBMs, nuclear-powered submarines, hypersonic missiles and multi-warhead missiles.
North Korea placed Earth observation satellites in orbit in 2012 and 2016. Although North Korea does not notify neighboring countries of its missile launches in advance, it has issued notices before satellite launches in the past.
Although North Korea, with its past missile and rocket launches, has demonstrated its ability to send a satellite into space, questions arise about the capabilities of its satellites. Foreign experts say early satellites never transmitted images to North Korea, and analysts say new device featured in state media in recent weeks appears too small and crudely designed to process and transfer high resolution images.
South Korea warned on Monday that North Korea would face consequences if it goes ahead with its launch plan in violation of UN Security Council resolutions that ban the North from carrying out any launches using ballistic technology.