Kim Jong Un orders launch of spy satellite to proceed

Putting a surveillance satellite into orbit is a key goal of North Korean leader’s military strategy.

Kim Jong Un walks with officials at the Sohae Satellite launch site. He is wearing a black leather jacket, baggy black trousers and sunglasses. A launch structure is behind him
Analysts say the launch of the new satellite could take place between May and September [File: KCNA via Reuters]

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said his country has completed the development of its first military spy satellite and ordered officials to proceed with a planned launch, according to state media.

Kim, who was visiting the country’s National Aerospace Development Administration, said developing reconnaissance capabilities was a priority to counter “threats” from the United States and South Korea and that several satellites were necessary to firmly establish an intelligence-gathering capability, the state’s KCNA news agency reported on Wednesday.

Kim urged the deployment of the satellite as scheduled but did not elaborate on the launch date.

In December, North Korea conducted what it called an important “final phase” test for a spy satellite and said it would complete preparations for the launch by April.

“Securing real-time information about the hostile forces’ military scenario” is the “most important” task, Kim said.

Kim also accused the US and South Korea of expanding hostile military campaigns in the name of bolstering their alliance and claimed the US was trying to “to turn South Korea into an advanced base for aggression and an arsenal for war” by deploying military assets like aircraft carriers and nuclear-capable bombers in the region.

The US and South Korean militaries have been expanding their combined drills to beef up their deterrence against North Korea’s growing nuclear threats. This week, they launched a 12-day aerial exercise involving some 110 warplanes and staged a one-day naval missile defence exercise with Japan.

Kim accused the US of trying “to turn South Korea into an advanced base for aggression and an arsenal for war” by deploying military assets like aircraft carriers and nuclear-capable bombers in the region.

State media shared a photo of Kim talking to officials in front of a blurred-out image of an apparent satellite. He was accompanied by his daughter who has been pictured with her father at several recent missile launches and military events.

North Korea carried out a record number of missile tests in 2022 and has conducted about 30 since the start of this year as Kim looks to modernise and advance the country’s military prowess.

Last week, Pyongyang tested what it said was a solid-fuelled Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a significant breakthrough, and has also developed a nuclear-power submarine, a hypersonic missile and a multi-warhead missile although it is not clear if they are close to operational.

Observers say that while North Korea complains about the US-South Korean drills, it also uses them as a pretext to advance its capabilities and ratchet up the pressure on Washington to make concessions.

“As the US and South Korea are scheming to further tighten their military posture against the DPRK … it is quite natural for the DPRK to develop its military deterrence strong enough to cope with the serious security environment at present and in the future,” Kim said, according to KCNA.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the country’s official name.

Putting a spy satellite into orbit would require a long-range rocket. But these launches are banned by the United Nations, which views such activity as a cover for testing long-range ballistic missile technology.

Pyongyang placed its first and second Earth observation satellites into orbit in 2012 and 2016, drawing new UN sanctions, but foreign experts say neither one transmitted any imagery back to North Korea.

Despite its now continued weapons testing in violation of UN resolutions, North Korea has avoided new censure because Russia and China – permanent members of the UN Security Council with the right of veto – have refused to support attempts by the US and others to tighten sanctions.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies