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Japan on standby for falling missile debris as North Korea announces plans to launch satellite

To launch a satellite into space, North Korea would have to use long-range missile technology banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions.
North Korea Satellite
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Tongchang on March 11, 2022.KCNA / via AP file

TOKYO — North Korea on Monday notified neighboring Japan that it plans to launch a satellite in coming days, which may be an attempt to put Pyongyang’s first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he ordered Japan’s Self Defense Force to shoot down the satellite or debris, if any entered Japanese territory.

Japan’s coast guard said the notice it received from North Korean waterway authorities said the launch window was from May 31 to June 11, and that the launch may affect waters in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of the Philippines’ Luzon Island.

The coast guard issued a safety warning for ships in the area on those dates because of the possible risks from falling debris. Japan’s coast guard coordinates and distributes maritime safety information in East Asia, which is likely the reason it was the recipient of North Korea’s notice.

To launch a satellite into space, North Korea would have to use long-range missile technology banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions. Its past launches of Earth observation satellites were seen as disguised missile tests.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the launch would violate U.N. resolutions and was a “threat to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and the international community.”

Japan has already been on standby for falling missile debris from North Korean launches earlier this year and has deployed missile defense systems such as land-to-air PAC-3 and ship-to-air SM-3 interceptors in southwestern Japan and in the East China Sea.

Matsuno said it was possible the satellite would enter or pass above Japan’s southwestern islands including Okinawa, where the United States has major military bases and thousands of troops.

North Korea shows Kim Jong Un examining a military spy satellite that may be launched soon
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter inspect a military reconnaissance satellite, which is among an array of high-tech weapons systems he has vowed to develop.KCNA / AFP - Getty Images

South Korea warned Monday that North Korea will face consequences if it goes ahead with its launch plan in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the North from conducting any launch using ballistic technology.

“Our government strongly warns North Korea against a provocation that threatens peace in the region and urges it to withdraw its illegal launch plan immediately,” a ministry statement said. It said South Korea will cooperate with the international community to resolutely cope with any North Korean provocation.

Earlier this month, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong Un had inspected a finished military spy satellite at his country’s aerospace center and approved the satellite’s launch plan. Monday’s launch notice did not specify the type of satellite.

Last week, rival South Korea launched its first commercial-grade satellite into space, which likely will provide it with technology and expertise to place its first military spy satellite into orbit later this year and build more powerful missiles. Experts say Kim would want his country to launch a spy satellite before South Korea does.

North Korea placed Earth observation satellites in orbit in 2012 and 2016. Pyongyang does not notify neighboring countries of its missile firings in advance, but has issued notices ahead of satellite launches.

While North Korea has demonstrated an ability to deliver a satellite into space, there are questions about the satellite’s capability. Foreign experts say the earlier satellites never transmitted imagery back to North Korea, and analysts say the new device displayed in state media appeared too small and crudely designed to support high-resolution imagery.

Spy satellites are among an array of high-tech weapons systems Kim has publicly vowed to develop. Other weapons systems on his wish list include solid-propellant ICBMs, nuclear-powered submarines, hypersonic missiles and multi-warhead missiles.

The North’s satellite launch plan comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.