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Satellites of our own

Apr 15,2017
The clock is ticking for a sixth North Korean nuclear test. After analyzing satellite photos, 38 North, a U.S. website specializing in monitoring the communist regime, said that Pyongyang is on the brink of conducting a sixth nuclear test. The only thing needed at this stage is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s approval. North Korea will likely do the test on — or shortly after — April 15, its founder Kim Il Sung’s 105th birth anniversary.

The Donald Trump administration is expected to react strongly if North Korea crosses this red line. Under such volatile conditions, our government, military and intelligence authorities must be thoroughly prepared for any contingency. In particular, they must do their best to gather as much information on North Korea as possible through all available intelligence assets.

The problem is that our government has to rely on 38 North, a U.S. academic group, to share such sensitive information on North Korea’s nuclear test preparations.

The group is known to use civilian satellite images to analyze information on the North. Of course, our military receives from U.S. military authorities images of even higher resolution. Also, our government can take advantage of Japan’s satellites since a bilateral military information exchange agreement went into effect in November. After aggressive investments in space studies over the past decades, Japan now has the ability to collect intelligence from four top-notch satellites hovering above the Korean Peninsula. Our military, too, collects information about the North on its own, but its satellite images are limited.

Intelligence-gathering is crucial to our nuclear deterrence and the much-hyped Kill Chain, aimed at preemptively destroying North Korean missiles, as well as to maritime and air operations and military communications.

The government plans to establish an intelligence-gathering system after borrowing advanced satellites from Germany, France or Israel from 2018 to 2022. We welcome the government’s decision to reinforce our intelligence-gathering capability.

The government must acquire its own advanced satellites. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration told the National Assembly that it will invest 1 trillion won ($876.2 million) to obtain five reconnaissance satellites with a ground resolution of 0.3 to 0.5 meters between 2020 and 2022. The project could not be implemented for three years due to disagreements among government agencies.

The government should press ahead. We cannot count on other countries’ satellites for our survival. Intelligence is the key to our self defense.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 15, Page 26