Japan Govt Increasingly Wary of Additional North Korean Satellite Launches; Tokyo to Enhance Cooperation with Washington, Seoul

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi gestures during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday.

The Japanese government is becoming increasingly wary of any additional launches by North Korea of military reconnaissance satellites because Pyongyang had expressed its intention to put into orbit three more satellites within this year.

North Korea successfully launched a satellite into orbit for the first time in November.

The government believes that North Korea may launch a second satellite as early as within this month, and it intends to strengthen cooperation with the United States and South Korea.

At a press conference on Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said, “There is a possibility that [North Korea] could push ahead with [additional launches] from now on.” He then emphasized the government’s intention to gather relevant information in close cooperation with Washington and Seoul and make every possible effort for warning and surveillance.

The South Korean government has expressed its view that a second satellite may be launched as early as the period between March and April.

The Japanese government is more nervous about North Korea’s additional satellite launches because it believes that if North Korea achieves its goal of establishing a system of a total of four satellites and covers its observation capabilities, which are seen as being insufficient with a single satellite, that could become a major threat to the security of Japan, the United Sates and South Korea.

North Korea in November launched its first military reconnaissance satellite, called the Malligyong-1, which has been confirmed to be in the Earth’s orbit.

When The Yomiuri Shimbun asked experts to analyze data that was released by the U.S. Space Force about the orbit, it was found that the satellite is circling the Earth and has some control functions, such as the ability to adjust its orbit if necessary.

The satellite can cover areas around bases of the Self-Defense Forces, the South Korean military and U.S. forces based in Japan and South Korea. It is believed that the satellite can only observe the same locations on Earth about once every five days.

However, with four satellites in orbit, North Korea could observe the same location almost every day.

It is not clear whether the satellite has the capability to take precise images. North Korea has claimed that it has taken satellite images of a U.S. aircraft carrier and other vessels anchored at a military port in Busan, South Korea, but it has not released any images.

Reconnaissance satellites are generally classified into two types. One is an optical satellite, and another is a synthetic aperture radar satellite that enables observations with radar during the night and in bad weather. Many countries have both kinds of satellites, but the Malligyong-1’s capabilities are unclear.

At the press conference, when asked about the satellite’s functionality, Hayashi only said, “Careful analysis will be needed over the details including what functions the satellite has.”