North Korea appears to have successfully placed a satellite into orbit, moving leader Kim Jong Un closer to his key policy goal of deploying an array of reconnaissance probes to keep an eye on US forces in the region.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Wednesday that it assessed the satellite launched a day earlier has entered an orbit, adding the JCS was unclear whether the device was operational.
North Korea claimed it successfully put a spy satellite into orbit after two attempts earlier this year ended in failure.
Kim oversaw the latest launch and his state media said the country wants to fire off several additional spy satellites within a short period of time.
North Korea released images that showed its rocket blasting off under night skies.
Kim can be seen watching the launch and smiling profusely as he stood with technicians from his space agency.
While officials in Seoul believe a North Korean spy satellite would be rudimentary at best, it could help Pyongyang refine its targeting as it rolls out new missiles designed to deliver nuclear strikes in South Korea and Japan, which host the bulk of America’s military personnel in the region.
Kim later viewed photos of US military facilities in Guam from the new spy satellite, the state’s official media claimed Wednesday.
Kim saw “aerospace photos of Anderson Air Force Base, Apra Harbor and other major military bases of the US forces taken in the sky above Guam in the Pacific,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.
The state’s propaganda apparatus heralded what it said was a successful launch on late Tuesday of its new “Malligyong-1” satellite, which would formally start its reconnaissance mission from Dec. 1 after some fine tuning.
Kim said an array of spy satellites is needed to closely monitor and grasp the nature of military maneuvers of the “US imperialists and their vassal armies,” which are endangering the regional military situation, KCNA reported.
North Korea also fired an unspecified missile Wednesday, according to the South Korean military, but the launch apparently failed, Yonhap reported.
Earlier this month, North Korea tested new engines for intermediate-range ballistic missiles in a move that could help Pyongyang deliver quick strikes on US bases in places such as Guam.
While the US removed its nuclear weapons from Japan and South Korea decades ago, it maintains what the Pentagon bills as America’s largest munitions depot in Guam.
The tropical island is home to a US Air Force base with bombers capable of delivering nuclear strikes in places such as North Korea and further afield.
Prior to the latest launch, North Korea had tried seven times over the past 25 years to deploy a satellite. Five of the missions crashed into the sea and two put objects in space, albeit with questionable operating status.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Seoul in November that North Korea is sending munitions to Russia for use in Putin’s assault on Ukraine. In return, Moscow is providing technology and support for Kim’s military programs, he said.
The US for months has accused Kim of sending artillery shells and rockets that can work with the Soviet-era weapons that the Kremlin has deployed on the front lines.
Kim went to Russia in September to meet President Vladimir Putin, who pledged to assist Pyongyang with its space program ambitions.
The assistance from Putin could help North Korea turn the corner, offering Kim the chance to tap into a space program that’s more than half a century old and has a proven track record.
Russian technology could eventually be used to increase the surveillance capabilities of North Korea’s satellites and provide more power to the country’s rockets — allowing them to carry larger payloads into space.