SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country has completed the development of its first military spy satellite and ordered officials to go ahead with its launch as planned, state media reported Wednesday.
During his visit to the North’s aerospace agency Tuesday, Kim stressed it’s crucial to acquire a space-based surveillance system in the face of what he called U.S.-led security threats, the Korean Central News Agency said.
North Korea says its spate of weapons tests, including its first test-launch of a solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile designed to strike the U.S. mainland last week, are a response to joint military exercises between the United States and its regional allies South Korea and Japan.
At the National Aerospace Development Administration, Kim said military reconnaissance was crucial for North Korea to effectively use its methods of war deterrence, according to KCNA.
Kim said “the military reconnaissance satellite No. 1” had been built as of April and ordered efforts to speed up final preparations for its launch at a date that wasn’t disclosed. He said North Korea must launch several satellites to firmly establish an intelligence-gathering capability, KCNA said.
Kim also accused the U.S. and South Korea of expanding their hostile military campaigns in the name of bolstering their alliance. He accused the U.S. of transforming South Korea into “an advanced base for aggression” by deploying strategic assets like aircraft carriers and nuclear-capable bombers.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries have been expanding their combined drills to beef up their deterrence against North Korea’s growing nuclear threats. This week, the allies launched a 12-day aerial exercise involving some 110 warplanes and staged a one-day naval missile defense exercise with Japan.
North Korea, for its part, has carried out about 100 rounds of missile tests since the start of last year, about 30 of them this year. Observers say while North Korea protests the U.S.-South Korean drills, it also uses them as pretext to advance its own military capabilities that it believes would apply more pressure on Washington to make greater concessions such as the relaxing of sanctions.
A spy satellite is among an array of high-tech weapons Kim has been developing. The others are a solid-propellant ICBM, a nuclear-power submarine, a hypersonic missile and a multi-warhead missile. North Korea has conducted tests of such weapons, but it is not clear how close they are to operational.
Many experts question whether North Korea has sophisticated cameras to use on a spy satellite, because photos it has released from previous test launches were low-resolution imagery.
Kim’s comments appeared to link the spy satellite to the North’s escalatory nuclear doctrine, which authorizes pre-emptive nuclear strikes. According to KCNA, Kim said one of the objectives for its spy satellite is acquiring an ability to “use pre-emptive military force when the situation demands.”
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea is communicating that its military reconnaissance satellites would be intended to acquire precise location and movement information in real time so that its missiles and other nuclear-armed weapons could accurately strike targets. He said North Korea will likely inform international maritime and telecommunication authorities of its specific launch plans, likely sometime between May and September.
Putting a reconnaissance satellite into orbit would require a long-range rocket. But the U.N. bans such a launch by North Korea because it views it as a cover for testing its long-range ballistic missile technology.
North Korea placed its first and second Earth observation satellites into orbit in 2012 and 2016, but foreign experts say neither one transmitted any imagery back to North Korea. U.N. sanctions were issued over those launches.
North Korea has avoided fresh U.N. sanctions for its recent ballistic missile tests in 2022 and this year because the U.N. Security Council permanent members Russia and China won’t support U.S. and and others’ attempts to toughen sanctions on it.