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[Opinion] Japanese Spy Satellites

Posted January. 10, 2006 08:36,   


Reconnaissance satellites are sometimes called spy satellites. They are so powerful that one can even read the newspaper a person is holding in Central Park from as far away as hundreds of kilometers above the earth. The KH-12, a reconnaissance satellite the U.S. deployed in the early 1990s, can identify what a certain object is as long as it is bigger than 10 to 15cm by 10 to 15cm. The KH-13, launched in the late 1990s, can identify a certain object on the earth as long as it is bigger than four centimeters long and four centimeters wide. Recently, it was discovered that Swiss intelligence services intercepted a fax about a “report on CIA detention centers in Eastern Europe.” A Swiss electronic reconnaissance satellite intercepted a fax from Egypt’s embassy in London to Egypt.

The name “Key Hole” or “KH” implies that a surveillance satellite, a state-of-the-art tool of surveillance in modern warfare, can give its owners a close look into their enemies’ territory. A U.S. spy satellite flies across the Korean Peninsula a couple of times a day, taking hundreds of high-resolution photos. It can relay the pictures to the U.S. Department of Defense in real time. Only a limited number of them are made available to South Korea. It is known that North Korea conducts its military training when satellites are not above the Korean Peninsula.

Japan is making plans to launch its second surveillance satellite designed to keep an eye on the Korean Peninsula. The satellite is actually a grouping of an imaging satellite that takes photos and a radar imaging satellite that gathers images by receiving radio waves at nighttime and in bad weather. The two satellites are able to obtain a clear image of an object on the earth as long as it is larger than one meter by one meter. But Japan’s third spy satellite, slated for launch in 2009, is capable of identifying a 50cm-by-50cm object. It will easily detect missile launches or troop movements on the Korean Peninsula.

In 1969, the Diet, Japan’s legislative body, approved a self-imposed limit on the deployment of military satellites by stating, “Aerospace development is allowed only for peaceful purposes.” In August 1998, North Korea test fired its Taepodong ballistic missiles. In response, in 2002, Japan incorporated a new concept called “Safety of Japanese Citizens” into law, legalizing the development of military satellites. North Korea unintentionally gave Japan an excuse to build its surveillance capacity. The world’s powerful nations are building high-tech reconnaissance satellites and closely monitoring every move on the Korean Peninsula. Yet, Koreans are still preoccupied with internal struggles or conflicts, taking backward instead of forward steps in a world of changes and progress.

Lee Dong-kwan, Editorial Writer, dklee@donga.com