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.
Japan’s coast guard said the notice it received from North Korean waterway authorities said the launch window was from May 31 and June 11 and that the launch may affect waters in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of the Philippines’ Luzon Island.
Japan’s 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.”
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered Japan’s Self Defense Force to shoot down the satellite or debris, if any entered Japanese territory.
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.
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 PAC-3 and ship-to-air interceptors in southwestern Japan.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he instructed officials to do their utmost to gather and analyze information related to the launch and inform people about it, his office said.
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 in the past.
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.
Since the start of 2022, North Korea has test-launched more than 100 missiles, some of them nuclear-capable weapons that place the U.S. mainland, South Korea and Japan within striking distance. North Korea argues its testing spree is meant to issue warning over expanded military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, but observers say North Korea aims to modernize its weapons program then win greater concessions from its rivals in future dealings.
Last week, the South Korean and U.S. militaries conducted large-scale live-fire drills near the border with North Korea as the first of five rounds of exercises marking 70 years since the establishment of their alliance. North Korea warned Monday that the U.S. and South Korea will face unspecified consequences for their “war scenario for aggression on” North Korea.
“We’d like to ask them if they can cope with the consequences to be entailed by their reckless and dangerous war gambles that are being staged under the eyes of the armed forces of (North Korea),” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.