N. Korea notifies IMO of 1st military spy satellite launch plan

May 30, 2023

North Korea notified the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on Tuesday of its plan to launch its first military spy satellite between May 31 and June 11, an IMO official said, in yet another indication that it would press ahead with it in defiance of international criticism and warnings.

The North made the notification through an email to an official in charge of maritime safety at the IMO headquarters in London, according to the official who requested anonymity. It marks the North’s first such notification to the IMO since 2016.

The previous day, the North apprised Japan of the launch plan, a move that triggered a warning by South Korean, U.S. and Japanese nuclear envoys that the recalcitrant regime will face a “stern, unified” response from the international community should the plan go ahead.

Earlier in the day, Ri Pyong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, made it official that the launch will take place in June.

In a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, Ri said the North’s satellite-based reconnaissance is an “indispensable” act to bolster its self-defense capabilities against its enemies’ “reckless” military exercises.

The North’s spy satellite to be launched in June and various reconnaissance means to be newly tested are “indispensable to tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling and coping with in advance in real time the dangerous military acts” of the U.S. and South Korea, Ri said in the English-language statement.

He also vowed to “expand reconnaissance and information means and improve various defensive and offensive weapons and have the timetables for carrying out their development plans,” without elaborating on details.

Earlier this month, North Korea announced the completion of preparations to mount its first military spy satellite on a rocket, with the North’s leader Kim Jong-un approving the “future action plan.”

A military reconnaissance satellite is among the high-tech weapons systems that the North’s leader vowed to develop at a key party congress in 2021, along with a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a nuclear-powered submarine.

Ri condemned the U.S. and South Korea for raising military tensions, taking issue with the allies’ largest-ever live-fire exercise and the South’s plan to host a multinational naval drill aimed at preventing the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.

He also slammed the U.S. for intensifying its “hostile air espionage activities” with the recent dispatch of high-profile military spy aircraft over the Yellow Sea.

“We will comprehensively consider the present and future threats and put into more thoroughgoing practice the activities for strengthening all-inclusive and practical war deterrents,” Ri said.

South Korea on Monday “strongly” warned against North Korea’s planned satellite launch Monday, vowing to make Pyongyang pay “due prices” if it goes ahead with the launch.

Seoul’s foreign ministry on Tuesday again slammed the North’s planned launch and said it was “absurd” for Pyongyang to use the joint defense posture of South Korea and the U.S. as an excuse to launch a spy satellite.

“North Korea’s so-called satellite launch is a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit any launch using ballistic missile technology,” Lim Soo-suk, spokesperson of the ministry, told a regular press briefing. He added, “No matter what North Korea claims, it cannot hide this fact.”

The North’s proposed satellite launch would violate a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions banning its nuclear and missile programs, as it uses the same technology used in ballistic missiles.

Experts said a spy satellite will help the North stage a precision strike against targets in war situations, as it will enhance the country’s surveillance capability, but many still raised doubts about the North’s satellite capabilities.

In December last year, the North conducted an “important, final-stage” test for the development of a spy satellite and released black-and-white photos of South Korean cities that were shot by its “test satellite” from space. Outside experts said they are “too crude” to be satellite photos.

The North last launched the “Kwangmyongsong-4,” an Earth-observation satellite, in February 2016, claiming it has the right to develop “peaceful” space programs.

In April, North Korea fired a solid-fuel ICBM for the first time, after launching more than 70 ballistic missiles last year alone, the most in a single year.