North Korea boasts about satellite launch capabilities
North Korea’s state media said Monday that the regime’s development of a high-thrust engine provides a “sure guarantee” that the regime will be able to launch satellites into orbit, highlighting the possibility that Pyongyang will make good on previous threats to launch a reconnaissance satellite by April.
Pak Kyong-su, vice director of Pyongyang’s National Aerospace Development Administration, said the regime “succeeded in developing a high-thrust engine for a carrier rocket and thus provided a sure guarantee for launching various kinds of satellites into relevant orbits” in an English-language report released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Pak’s remarks that the North has made “steady” progress in its pursuit of “multi-functional and high-performance” satellites were made during an interview on Sunday to mark the 14th anniversary of the North’s accession to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
He claimed the North has found applications for its space science technology in other sectors, including agriculture and natural resources exploration.
“All these successes foretell the bright future of the DPRK’s space development,” he said, referring to the North by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In December, the regime conducted what the KCNA called an “important final-stage” test of a rocket for putting a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit last year, and also released low-resolution black-and-white photos showing a view from space of Seoul and Incheon, which the agency said was taken by the test satellite carried by the rocket.
Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of regime leader Kim Jong-un, blasted South Korean defense experts who questioned the North’s surveillance capabilities based on the photos a day after their release.
She also hinted that a more powerful camera would be installed on the regime’s first military reconnaissance satellite, which state media at the time said would be launched into orbit by April this year.
Leader Kim Jong-un told the sixth enlarged plenary session of the eighth Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party later the same month that the regime’s aerospace agency would “fire its first military satellite” within “the shortest time frame.”
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the report “appears to be aimed at defending North Korea’s international legal position as it carries out technical preparations for launching satellites.”
Pyongyang is barred from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, including those for satellites, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, but the regime has claimed that the ban encroaches upon its sovereignty and its right to use space for peaceful purposes.
But Yang also said the timing of the latest KCNA report made it hard to rule out the possibility that the North could conduct a satellite launch to coincide with upcoming joint exercises by South Korea and the United States.
Monday’s KCNA report was released on the same day that the allies kicked off a four-day crisis management staff training ahead of their large-scale Freedom Shield command post joint exercise, which is due to start on March 13.
In the past, crisis management training preceding the main command post exercise have focused on how the allies should respond to, and manage, a military crisis to prevent its escalation into war.
This year’s Freedom Shield exercise will proceed in tandem with a new large-scale field training exercise, called Warrior Shield, to enhance the realism of the drills. Korea Joong Ang Daily