North Korea launches ballistic missile

Japan's Defense Ministry announced on Monday afternoon that North Korea launched at least one ballistic missile. The projectile likely fell outside Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone in the Sea of Japan.

The Defense Ministry says North Korea launched at least one ballistic missile from an inland area of the country toward the northeast at around 3 p.m. on Monday.

The missile reached a maximum altitude of around 50 kilometers and flew more than 250 kilometers. It is estimated that the missile fell outside Japan's EEZ near the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.

There are no reports of damage to ships and aircraft caused by the launch.

This is the fourth time since April 2 that North Korea has launched a ballistic missile this year.

The projectile likely fell outside Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone in the Sea of Japan.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hayashi Yoshimasa says Japan has lodged a strong protest and strongly condemned North Korea through the embassy route in Beijing.

He told reporters that North Korea's actions threaten the peace and security of not only Japan and the region but also others in the international community. He added ballistic missile launches violate UN Security Council resolutions and are a serious issue that affects people's safety.

Speculation and concern over North Korea's spy satellites

Japan and South Korea were on high alert, expecting North Korea to launch a spy satellite. Former NHK Seoul bureau chief Ikehata Shuhei gave his insight on Pyongyang's current capabilities, shortly after the ballistic missile launch.

Former NHK Seoul bureau chief Ikehata Shuhei speaking at NHK NEWSLINE.

What do we know about the immediate response?

It's still early to say much, but recently the exchange of information between Japan and South Korea regarding the North's missile launches have been very swift. So it's likely the two countries are working closely right now to determine what kind of missile was tested this time and how to respond.

Does this launch mean the North is going to abandon its plan to launch a satellite?

I doubt that's the story. Last week, a US think tank said new images showed movement at a launch site in the country's northwest, suggesting preparations are still underway. South Korean defense officials estimate the launch could be carried out by the end of this month.

And Pyongyang has announced they intend to put three satellites in orbit this year based on its five-year defense program.

Geopolitics is shifting in their favor. Last month, the UN Security Council tried to adopt a resolution that would extend the monitoring of sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs. However, it was vetoed by Russia. And there are suspicions that Russia provided the North with technical assistance after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a space center in Russia's Far East in September.

How advanced is their reconnaissance technology? What can these satellites do?

North Korea insists they are now taking photos of US military bases in South Korea, Guam and Japan. Pyongyang wants to send a message to Washington that these spy satellites will make it easier for them to strike US forces. We don't know that for sure because Pyongyang hasn't published any of the photos from their first reported satellite launch in November, but Seoul was able to locate satellite debris that had fallen into the sea after a previous failed launch, and they found it was equipped with an optical and digital camera made in South Korea and Japan. It's estimated the resolution of that North Korean satellite was at best three meters square. In other words, objects smaller than three meters square cannot be identified.

Military experts say that means you can't tell the difference between a tank and a car. And that's way behind some commercial satellites. For example, a satellite named SkySat developed by a US firm has a resolution of 50 centimeters. So these figures suggest that even if North Korean spy satellites can take photos of military bases in South Korea and the US, their capacity is limited from a military point of view.

If the North's satellite isn't that sophisticated, how worried should we be?

We have to remember that the technology the North uses in ballistic missiles, just like the one reportedly fired on Monday, is the same as the technology it uses in the rockets that launch these satellites.

That's the reason the UN Security Council has tried to ban North Korea from launching satellites. So it's still a concern, especially to the US, as it means they could be a camouflage for ICBM tests. But if they're just satellites then it's much more of a symbolic development for the North than anything else.

When the first one was successfully put into orbit, Kim Jong Un threw a party. Attendees wore T shirts with the letters NATA on them, or National Aerospace Technology Administration, which is definitely a clear copy of NASA. It may seem like a joke, but the leadership wants to convey that the regime's space program is catching up with NASA thanks to the leader. I'm sure some North Koreans are very skeptical of that message. But it appears that Kim believes his triumphs in space will foster more loyalty and devotion to his leadership.

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