back to article North Korean satellite had no military utility for spying, says South Korea

A North Korean satellite allegedly designed for reconnaissance was not viable for its alleged intended purpose, according to South Korea's military on Wednesday. North Korea attempted to put the satellite into orbit on May 31, but it instead plunged into the sea soon after it was launched. In a rare admission of failure, …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Living on lies and drug money

    What a waste of a country.

  2. Wellyboot Silver badge

    No use as a recon bird

    Was it also suspiciously heavy for it's size with an aerodynamic profile?

    Enquiring minds and all that...

  3. Alan Mackenzie

    What was this satellite for?

    "no military utility as a reconnaissance satellite."

    Then what? Having captured the hardware (which surely still belongs to North Korea) and analysed it, all they seem to be able to decide is what it's not for. Pull the other one!

    If this satellite was intended for weapons systems, these experts would have said so. Maybe it's a weather satellite.

    1. Martin Gregorie

      Re: What was this satellite for?

      Maybe the contents of the nose cone was just a chunk of concrete and a radio beacon to make it easier to track?

      That would make a nice, cheap test mass: perfect if the item being tested is the launcher rather than the item(s) being launched.

      Cynic? MOI?

    2. Blazde Silver badge

      Re: What was this satellite for?

      which surely still belongs to North Korea

      They're technically at war so it's probably easy to argue it's a legitimate prize.

      However it could possibly explain the careful wording (something must). The satellite has no military utility for spying, but we think *huge* salvage value, in case you'd care to have it scrutinised by the relevant international courts for further embarrassment Jong Un?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: What was this satellite for?

        There is no accepted concept of "belongs to" between the two Koreas, since both are of the opinion that the other, land and everything on top, belongs to them. However, it's not that unusual to confiscate military hardware that is in your area. For example, that balloon that the US shot down is not being returned either. In general, if you lose it outside your territory and don't go get it, nobody who does go get it will even briefly consider giving it back to you.

        1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

          Re: What was this satellite for?

          If you kick your boy into the neighbours garden, you ain’t getting it back *sadface*

        2. Blazde Silver badge

          Re: What was this satellite for?

          military hardware that is in your area

          It wasn't in their area though (nor in any hypothetically reunified Korea area). It was at sea. Neither Korea are signed up to the 1989 salvage convention it seems, but were for example this a Chinese military satellite (or military balloon) crashed off the US coast rather than brought down on land then I believe China would be able to point to the treaty and label America in violation if they so much as touched the wreck. Unless they're at war.

          (Of course international law, subterfuge and diplomatic concerns being the nebulous subjects they are, China may not be willing to acknowledge their wreck is a military object, may want the US to salvage it, the US may salvage it anyway and cover it up, no one may care about China whinging, China may not want to be seen whinging and instead bank the incident so they can do the same later, there may be a behind-the-scenes deal, etc etc)

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: What was this satellite for?

            It was 200 km off an island which is part of South Korea, which is within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of South Korea. It doesn't automatically mean that anything that lands there belongs to them, but "in your area" does typically include that place. Of course, it can also just include any place that isn't someone else's area. If something crashes in international waters, someone who wants it enough can go retrieve it if you don't.

            By the way, that balloon was brought down off the coast of the US. That was done deliberately, and the location was within US waters. China did complain about that, but they were well aware that they would not get their balloon back.

            I don't know much about salvage law, but it appears that the 1989 convention and those on which it was built don't really concern themselves with who can retrieve military equipment, but who can claim rewards for assisting a ship in danger or preventing environmental damage. Naval vessels are excluded, but not military things of all kinds, and there are also abandoned property, risks to navigation or safety, and environmental points which can be made should someone want to make a legal case of it.

            1. Blazde Silver badge

              Re: What was this satellite for?

              The 1989 Salvage convention applies whether 1 metre or 201 nautical miles off the coast. Not to the Koreas because they didn't sign it, but if N.Korea wanted to appeal to international precedent that's where they'd start.

              The Chinese balloon was claimed to be non-military so yes China may be entitled to it, in return for compensating the US. But the US was not in violation when they retrieved it.

    3. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: If this satellite was intended for weapons systems, these experts would have said so.

      It's really not that hard to follow. They're not suggesting that's the intended use of the satellite.

      They're suggesting it was a dummy, NK never had any intention of it functioning as its stated purpose, and it was only included in the launch to disguise an illegal* ballistic missile test as a failed satellite launch.

      [*] Illegal in that it would have been in breach of UN Security Council rulings. But since NK has basically said "So what?" to all those rulings over the years, I have to wonder why bother with the pretence. Plausible deniability isn't really plausible. No one would believe them however strong any denials were.

      1. Blazde Silver badge

        Re: If this satellite was intended for weapons systems, these experts would have said so.

        If it was a dummy why not just say it was a dummy?

        I can't translate the Korean press release but reading more widely they've said, according to Sky, "the resolution of the optical device loaded on the satellite was not suitable for military use". Which is rubbish right? Even a poor quality spy satellite has more military utility than no spy satellite. If it's a dummy then it's a good enough dummy that they can't convincingly argue it is one. And since NK says "So what?" to these things why would they bother making an elaborate dummy unless they planned to make some, albeit perhaps limited, use of it if launch was successful? So it's a semi-dummy aka expendable spy satellite at best?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If it was a dummy why not just say it was a dummy?

          Well, perhaps since the Dour Leader demanded a spy satellite, to keep him happy, that's what they said they'd built.

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: If this satellite was intended for weapons systems, these experts would have said so.

          "since NK says "So what?" to these things why would they bother making an elaborate dummy"

          They probably wouldn't make an elaborate one, just a really basic one. However, appearances are important to them (for some reason they haven't recognized that their appearance nearly everywhere in the world is as the worst country on a lot of metrics). This is why they frequently tell obvious lies, for example saying that multiple failed satellite launches before were actually successes. That said, they already have one photographic satellite in successful orbit (though how powerful it is, whether they are able to communicate with it, and what they're using it for are less clear), Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4.

          Perhaps this indicates that Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 may not have the resolution expected of a modern satellite either. Alternatively, they needed a dummy for testing as a missile but decided to include some old camera parts they had in case it did make it up. It wouldn't be as useful as a real reconnaissance satellite, but much less expensive if they're going for missile testing. In addition, the ability for them to get a bunch of reconnaissance data from satellites they launched is much less than their ability to collect reconnaissance data from someone else's equipment by stealing or buying it, so they may not really have a reason to manufacture any.

    4. bill 27

      Re: What was this satellite for?

      "(which surely still belongs to North Korea)"

      Does it? How far off-shore was it recovered, may it was in international waters? Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, derelict and all that nautical crap.

    5. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: What was this satellite for?

      > If this satellite was intended for weapons systems, these experts would have said so

      Did you read it? The satellite is nothing. It's the scapegoat.

      It's the rocket they are actually testing.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    always looking at the finger that points

    There are several more interesting takeaways. One is the confirmation that the long speculated recovery missions by other powers have indeed been happening. Due to the mode of failure and the circumstances, they may have recovered more than a dummy payload, and they will be looking hard at the manufacture of everything they did recover to determine things like its capabilities, weaknesses, methods of manufacture, and what suppliers are providing material support for the NK weapons programs.

    The satellite announcement probably isn't news to the powers that be, I'd be amazed if they hadn't buzzed one with an X-37 already.Not that they are likely to come out and say it. Just like we probably won't hear about other details from this or other recovered NK launch materials. The announcement puts all the other players on notice that we are aware what they are up to, and hints at what else might be in our hand without showing all the cards or forcing the other side's hand.

    We still don't have a public answer where the North Koreans got their engines from, and if they still have Russian serial numbers on them, but the statement may be to discourage further transfers of Russian military technology to the North Koreans in return for the large shipments of munitions we have seen leaving North Korea. It will also be a card to hold in the looming conflict with China as it is likely that parts from there have made it into the North Korean missile program as well.

  5. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    "United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from ..."

    Always makes me laugh. Like the old man at the end of the street impotently shaking his cane at those pesky kids.

    1. _Elvi_

      ... and their little dog ...

  6. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    "no military utility as a reconnaissance satellite."

    no military utility as a reconnaissance satellite."
    Being at the bottom of a sea instead of in orbit would tend to imply that the satellite had little utility as a satellite.

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