Both South and North Korea are preparing to launch their first spy satellites into orbit by the end of the month, marking their entry into the race for military capabilities in space. North Korea has informed Japan of its plans to launch a satellite between Wednesday and December 1, following two unsuccessful attempts earlier this year. Conversely, South Korea intends to send its first domestically developed military reconnaissance satellite into space on November 30, utilizing a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Seoul plans to launch four more spy satellites by 2025, with the goal of becoming less reliant on American intelligence systems. It has also successfully conducted test launches of its own liquid and solid fuel rockets, paving the way for the launch of more civilian and military satellites in the future. The acquisition of independent space-based reconnaissance capabilities would allow North Korea to remotely monitor U.S., South Korean, and Japanese troops, while South Korea’s satellites would enhance its surveillance capabilities and decrease its dependence on external intelligence systems.
Both Koreas could utilize their spy satellites for early warning capabilities, military targeting and damage assessments during times of conflict, as well as for communications. Despite doubts about the capabilities of North Korea’s recent satellite launches, experts argue that even a satellite with poor resolution could still have military utility for strategic warning and situational awareness. While some view these developments as threatening, it is also possible that the acquisition of reconnaissance capabilities could have a stabilizing effect by allowing North Korea to maintain better strategic situational awareness during a crisis.
South Korea’s capabilities are more advanced, but further progress is still needed to achieve desired results. The launch of spy satellites by both countries signifies their respective ambitions to enhance their military capabilities in space.