North Korea Confirms It Will Launch its First Military Spy Satellite in June

On Tuesday, North Korea said it is set to launch its first military spy satellite in June and described its space-based reconnaissance as critical for monitoring the United States’ “reckless” military exercises with South Korea. 

The statement followed a day after North Korea notified Japan’s coast guard that it plans to launch a satellite sometime between May 31 and June 11 and that the event may affect the waters in the East China Sea, Yellow Sea, and east of the Philippines’ Luzon Islan. Yasukazu Hamada, Japanese Defense Minister, ordered Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to shoot down the debris or satellite if any entered Japanese territory. 

In comments published on North Korean state media, senior military official Ri Pyong Chol berated the combined South Korean-U.S. military exercises, which Pyongyang has long described as rehearsals for invasion. He explained that North Korea considers space-based reconnaissance to be “indispensable” to monitor in real-time the “dangerous military acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces,” which he stated are “openly revealing their reckless ambition for aggression.”

Since the beginning of 2022, North Korea has conducted test fires of around 100 missiles, including intercontinental missiles designed to reach the mainland of the United States and simulating nuclear attacks on targets in South Korea.

North Korea said its increasingly intensified activity is meant to counter its rivals’ joint military exercises as it continues to use the drills as a pretext to advance its build-up of nuclear-capable weapons. 

Last week, the U.S. and South Korean militaries conducted substantial live-fire drills near the border with North Korea, the first of five rounds of exercises marking 70 years since establishing the strong alliance. 

North Korean military official: Joint exercise shows “sinister intention” for action against the North

Ri said the expansion of the U.S.-South Korean military exercise, combined with the stated plans of the U.S. to end nuclear-capable submarines to dock in South Korea along with increased American reconnaissance aircraft in the region, underline a “sinister intention” to prepare for preemptive military action against the North. While Seoul and Washington, D.C., describe the regular military exercises as defensive, they have continued expanding training since 2022 to cope with North Korea’s evolving threats. 

“The concerning security environment prevailing in the region owing to the dangerous military acts by the U.S. and its vassal forces requires us to secure as the most pressing task a reliable reconnaissance and information means capable of gathering information about the military acts of the enemy in real-time,” said Ri.

“(North Korea’s) military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 to be launched in June and various reconnaissance means due to be newly tested are indispensable to tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling and coping with in advance in real time the dangerous military acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces,” added Ri. He didn’t specify other reconnaissance means the North has planned. 

The satellite launch by North Korea would use long-range missile technology banned by previous U.N. Security Council resolutions. However, previous rockets and missile tests have shown North Korea’s ability to deliver a satellite into space. 

North Korean leader Kim Jung Un has publicly vowed to develop spy satellites and other high-tech weapons systems. Other weapons systems he appears to be working on include hypersonic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, solid-propellant ICBMs, and multi-warhead missiles.

Previously, North Korea placed Earth-observation satellites in orbit in 2012 and 2016. While North Korea doesn’t notify neighboring countries before missile firings, it has issued notices before satellite launches. 

Although North Korea has demonstrated an ability to deliver a satellite into space with past launches of rockets and missiles, questions remain about the capabilities of its satellites. Experts say the satellites have not yet been able to transmit images back to North Korea. In contrast, analysts say the new device is shown on state media recently appears too crudely designed and small to process and transfer high-resolution imagery.

On Monday, South Korea warned that North Korea would face consequences if it goes ahead with its planned launch, violating the U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the North from conducting any launch using ballistic technology.