While Seoul and the United States conduct military exercises that simulate war with North Korea here on the ground, space experts are warning the rogue nation could pose a threat to American interests in orbit.
The isolationist country announced plans to plant the North Korean flag on the moon last year and their entrance into the space race is heightening security concerns at the Pentagon.
Other spacefaring nations around the world have an incentive not to militarize space, but North Korea has no such motivation, Todd Harrison from the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies told SpaceNews.
“North Korea has never committed not to test nuclear weapons in space. And North Korea has demonstrated they’ll do all sorts of strange things. I don’t think I just put an idea in anybody’s head…That is not a good thing and that is something that we have to think about. How do you deal with that larger problem of North Korea?”
Countries that regularly launch satellites and spacecraft into space have an incentive to keep the orbital area clear of debris, but North Korea has nothing to protect. If the country were to launch an anti-satellite missile and create a storm of orbital debris they would have nothing to lose.
The rogue nation hasn’t committed to many of the practices endorsed by other spacefaring nations and is already acting to disrupt life here on Earth. North Korea jams GPS signals in key points along their border to disrupt shipping, Harrison told SpaceNews.
“That’s going to happen. You can’t necessarily deter that because they don’t have a lot to lose from it.”
His comments come as the U.S. and South Korea conduct annual war games simulating war with North Korea that will feature members of Seal Team 6. The addition of the Special Forces unit, along with U.S. F-35’s, is designed to send a strong message to Pyongyang, an unnamed military official told Yonhap News Agency.
“A bigger number of and more diverse U.S. special operation forces will take part in this year’s Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises to practice missions to infiltrate into the North, remove the North’s war command and demolition of its key military facilities.”
This year’s war games will also focus on preparing the THAAD anti-missile system the U.S. is deploying to South Korea. That announcement comes on the heels of a surprise launch by North Korea last week when it sent four ballistic missiles flying into the sea as part of an angry response to the planned joint military exercises.
The THAAD anti-missile system uses a mobile radar about the size of a bus, but other U.S. tracking systems use satellite-based information and the best way to improve such technology is in space.
North Korea demonstrated an ability to reach Earth orbit with a rocket launch last year paving the way for possible anti-satellite missiles to be used against American assets in space.
If war broke out with North Korea, the rogue nation might attempt to shoot down U.S. military satellites. That’s one reason some experts are calling for the creation of a dedicated space corps and increased militarization of low-Earth orbit.
Lawmakers like Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine are calling on Donald Trump to set aside room in his 2018 budget proposal for a full range of military space programs. Bridenstine, who is on the shortlist to become the next NASA administrator, urged his fellow lawmakers to fully fund U.S. launch capacity, according to SpaceNews.
“Our next-generation space systems must be integrated, resilient, and affordable.”
What do you think about North Korea’s military capabilities in space?
[Featured Image by Vincent Thian/AP]