The South Korean military on Monday warned the North to “immediately” halt its preparations for another military spy satellite launch, warning of an unspecified “necessary” response if Pyongyang persists with the launch.
Lt. Gen. Kang Ho-pil, chief director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), issued the warning a day after Defense Minister Shin Won-sun said Pyongyang may attempt another satellite launch before the end of the month.
“If North Korea goes ahead with the military reconnaissance satellite launch despite our warning, our military will come up with necessary measures to protect the lives and safety of our people,” Kang said.
According to the agreement, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights are not permitted within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the western region of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and 15 kilometers of the eastern region.
Live artillery exercises, naval drills and surveillance activities are also restricted inside the buffer zones.
But Seoul’s Unification Ministry has previously warned that elements of the agreement could limit the South Korean military’s readiness against North Korea by constraining aerial reconnaissance and training exercises.
In an interview with KBS on Sunday, Shin said the North’s third attempt to launch a spy satellite could occur before South Korea launches its first domestically developed reconnaissance satellite on Nov. 30.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is due to deliver the South Korean satellite into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Nov. 30.
Kang called the North’s expected satellite launch a “provocative act” that would threaten South Korea’s national security. He also noted the launch would violate United Nations Security Council sanctions resolutions that ban North Korean launches involving ballistic missile technology.
In response to a reporter’s question about whether the arrival of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in South Korea this week is intended to pressure the North against the launch, a JCS official said the visit was “already planned” and is “not directly related” to the North’s satellite launch preparations.
“But if (North Korea) proceeds with the (satellite) launch, necessary measures can be taken in connection with it,” he added.
The arrival of USS Carl Vinson is scheduled to take place just over a month after the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier docked in Busan, underlining the allies’ agreement to increase the rotation of U.S. strategic assets deployed to South Korea to deter North Korea’s advancing military threats.
Another JCS official noted that the North has engaged in “deceptive activity in the past” to obscure planning for its weapons tests and that the South Korean military would be “unable to give a definite response” regarding the timing of the satellite launch.
Earlier, Shin said that North Korea’s preparations “are underway for a launch to take place within a week.”
“It takes approximately a week to move the engine from the test site to Tongchang-ri, assemble the launchpad and inject the liquid fuel,” Shin said, referring to the North Korean satellite launching station in North Pyongan Province.
The defense minister said the North is believed to have “almost resolved” its engine problems “with Russian assistance.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his intentions to help develop North Korea’s satellite program at a rare summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a spaceport in Russia’s Far East in September.
Putin told media at the summit that Kim shows great interest in rocket technology, noting that North Korea is also developing an “excellent” space program.
The North conducted two failed attempts to launch a reconnaissance satellite into orbit in May and August.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]