North Korea may launch space rocket next year: Expert

North Korean soldiers guard the Unha-3 rocket at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Tongchang-Ri in 2012. Photo: AFP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Nov 3, 2021, The Korea Herald. North Korea may launch a space rocket next year as part of the regime’s program to enhance weapons capabilities amid the long-stalled denuclearization talks with the US, a state-run think tank report says, The Korea Herald reported.

Ko Jae-hong, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s spy agency, released a report Tuesday examining the North’s weapons expo held last month and the country’s defense outlook.

Ko said that it is likely that the North could launch a space rocket next year, in time for the country’s major holidays in the first half of 2022. They include the 80th birth anniversary of Kim Jong-il, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s late father, in February and the 110th birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder and leader Kim’s grandfather, in April. North Korea has conducted military parades and staged provocations on or around the major holidays in the past, holding bigger events every fifth or tenth year.

South Korea’s plan to launch its self-developed Nuri rocket for the second trial next May could be another factor, as the two Koreas are locked into an emerging arms race over technological advances in weaponry.

“If the UN or the US strongly condemn North Korea’s possible rocket launches and toughen sanctions, the North could strongly assert for (the US and South Korea) to withdraw ‘double standards,’ and in the worst case, the possibility of military tension on the Korean Peninsula cannot be ruled out,” said Ko.

Pyongyang has been demanding Washington and Seoul end what it calls double standards — of condemning the North’s weapons development tests as “provocations” and “threats” while the allies are building up its own military capabilities.

Ko also added that the North could likely go ahead with launching the new advanced weaponry it showcased at the recent defense expo, like it did with testing a new submarine-launched ballistic missile right after the exhibition.

“The North, considering the situation on the Korean Peninsula, is expected to continue testing the new weapons,” he said. “Taking the situation and the condition into account, Pyongyang could test-launch new strategic weapons that it showcased at the expo, but haven’t tested yet.”

North Korea has been upping the ante with back-to-back weapons test this year, despite Washington and Seoul’s repeated calls for dialogue.

The North’s firing of a new SLBM on Oct. 19 marked the regime’s eighth weapons test this year and its fifth launch since September — others have included a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched ballistic missile and what it said was a hypersonic missile.

By Ahn Sung-mi

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