North Korea Poised to Launch More Satellites; Threats Increase for Japan, U.S. and South Korea

KCNA via Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts as a rocket carrying the Malligyong-1 spy satellite is launched, according to North Korean government claims, in a location given as North Gyeongsang Province, North Korea, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

SEOUL — North Korea claimed Wednesday to have successfully put a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit and announced a plan to launch several more. It apparently aims to improve its reconnaissance capabilities against U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan and bolster its ability to launch a first strike with a nuclear missile. Russia is believed to be providing support behind the development of the satellite, and the threat to the security of Japan, the United States and South Korea is growing.

North Korea’s National Aerospace Technology Administration, which is in charge of satellite launches, did not disclose the satellite’s altitude or details of its orbit in Wednesday’s announcement.

Even if the satellite was successfully placed into orbit, there are still many challenges for its operation, including whether the satellite will be able to extend its solar panels and accurately transmit image data to the ground.

The aerospace administration said it will report its plans for additional launches to an important meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which will be held at the end of the year or later. Although it is unclear whether the launch was successful, the situation shows that North Korea will certainly continue to pursue satellite launches from January onward.

A plan to launch multiple reconnaissance satellites was revealed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his March 2022 visit to the aerospace development authorities, when he said many satellites will be put into orbit in a multifaceted manner. Operation of a large number of satellites is essential for reconnaissance over a broad area with as little interruption as possible.

At the time, Kim stated that the scope and targets of reconnaissance activity would be the U.S. forces and their followers deployed in South Korea, Japan and the Pacific. That is certain to include U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan, as well as bases of the South Korean military and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. North Korea has gradually extended the range of its tactical nuclear missiles, and they are said to have the capability to reach the Japanese archipelago.

Prior to Tuesday’s launch of the reconnaissance satellite, the South Korean military said that Russian engineers had visited North Korea and provided technical assistance on the engine of the rocket that was to carry the satellite.

Since the September summit meeting between Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korea has provided ammunition and other supplies for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. If Russia, which possesses advanced satellite-related technology, provides technical assistance in return, North Korea’s reconnaissance capabilities are likely to be enhanced.

Malligyong-1, the reconnaissance satellite launched this time, is thought to have poor resolution and is considered to be of little practical use. But it has been pointed out that North Korea may also improve its satellites with Russian assistance.