Kim Jong-un Advances North Korea’s Military Spy Satellite Program, Heightening Tensions with US and South Korea


In a recent visit to North Korea’s aerospace agency, leader Kim Jong-un examined a completed military spy satellite, emphasizing the significance of space-based reconnaissance in countering perceived threats from the United States and South Korea. During his visit, Kim approved a “future action plan” for the satellite’s launch, although no specific date has been disclosed. Analysts speculate that the launch may occur within the next few weeks. The anticipated launch has raised concerns as it would employ long-range missile technology that violates past UN Security Council resolutions. However, North Korea has previously demonstrated its capability to deliver satellites into space through missile and rocket tests. Despite this, some South Korean analysts remain skeptical about the satellite’s effectiveness, noting that the images released by North Korean state media depict a small and crudely designed satellite that may not support high-resolution imagery. Photos from Kim’s visit showed him and his daughter, both dressed in white lab coats, conversing with scientists near an unidentified object resembling the main component of a satellite. According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the satellite has undergone assembly examination and tests to ensure its viability in space. This visit marked Kim’s first public appearance in approximately a month. Kim’s stated objective in acquiring a spy satellite is to strengthen North Korea’s defense against perceived aggressions by the United States and South Korea. The countries have been engaged in joint military exercises, and discussions have taken place regarding enhancing their nuclear deterrence strategies to counter North Korean threats. North Korea has conducted around 100 missile tests since the beginning of 2022.

Preparations for the launch may include installing the satellite on a three-stage space rocket, potentially enabling a launch as early as mid-June. Alternatively, North Korea might time the event to coincide with major state anniversaries in July, September, or October. Recent commercial satellite images indicate rapid construction activities at North Korea’s northwest rocket launch facility, including work on the main satellite launch pad and the potential establishment of a new launch pad near the sea. Spy satellites are part of North Korea’s ambitious agenda to develop advanced weapons systems, including solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, hypersonic missiles, and multiwarhead missiles. While some of these systems have been tested, experts believe that additional time and technological breakthroughs are necessary for them to become fully functional.

In response to North Korea’s plans, Japan’s military has ordered troops to activate missile interceptors and prepare for the possible interception of satellite fragments that may fall on Japanese territory. It is worth noting that North Korea previously launched Earth observation satellites in 2012 and 2016, but experts determined that they did not transmit imagery back to North Korea. The UN Security Council imposed sanctions following those launches. However, recent ballistic tests conducted by North Korea in 2022 and 2023 have not resulted in new sanctions due to the opposition from Moscow and Beijing, highlighting the deepening divide among the council’s permanent members regarding Russia’s actions in Ukraine.


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