Both South and North Korea have plans to launch their first spy satellites into orbit by the end of November. North Korea has notified Japan that it intends to launch a satellite between Wednesday and December 1, following two unsuccessful attempts earlier this year. On the other hand, South Korea plans to send its first domestically developed military reconnaissance satellite into space on November 30, using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. In addition to this, South Korea aims to launch four more spy satellites by 2025.
The development and deployment of reconnaissance satellites provide several benefits for both Koreas. For North Korea, having a functioning satellite would allow them to remotely monitor U.S., South Korean, and Japanese troops. On the other hand, South Korea aims to reduce its dependence on American intelligence systems. This independent space-based reconnaissance capability is essential for various purposes such as increasing early warning capabilities, military targeting, damage assessments, and communication.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also promised to assist North Korea in building satellites. Additionally, North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration believes that the militarization of space by the United States and its allies necessitates an expansion of their spy satellite program.
While there are doubts about North Korea’s current satellite capabilities, experts argue that even if their first satellite has limited resolution, it can still provide some military utility for strategic warning and situational awareness. The acquisition of reconnaissance capabilities should not be seen solely as a threatening development. Instead, it could potentially have a stabilizing effect by allowing North Korea to have better strategic situational awareness in times of crisis.
South Korea’s capabilities are more advanced, but they still need to make further progress to obtain significant results in satellite reconnaissance. The launch of their first military reconnaissance satellite will boost their surveillance capabilities, although more satellites will be required in the future.