North Korea Testing Satellite Surveillance System: A Force Multiplier for Missiles and Special Forces?

On February 28 North Korea announced the successful testing of a new reconnaissance satellite system, with the state-run Korean Central News Agency reporting that a device tested the previous day “conducted vertical and inclined photographing of the specified area of the ground with cameras to be loaded on satellite. 

The recent test is of great significance in the development of reconnaissance satellite.” Two photographs of the Korean Peninsula from space, similar to those released on January 30 after the test of a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile, were shown. Space reconnaissance has long been a significant weakness of North Korea’s armed forces, and reconnaissance capabilities more generally were announced as a priority for development in 2021 alongside hypersonic weapons.

A satellite surveillance system has the potential to serve as a force multiplier for North Korean assets particularly considering its heavy reliance on missiles, artillery and special forces for its defense, providing intelligence on the most suitable targets and the optimal time for striking them. 

The country’s close defence ties to neighbouring China and Russia in particular mean that it was previously expected to gain intelligence from their satellites in wartime, and potentially to even be able to guide its weapons using them with North Korean missiles reported but unconfirmed to benefit from Russia’s GLOSNASS system that rivals the American GPS. 

Progress in space comes in parallel to rapid progress in hypersonic missile development, placing North Korea among the world leaders in the field following three successful tests since September 2021.

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