SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The US military formally launched a space force unit in South Korea on Wednesday, its first such installation on foreign soil that will likely allow Washington to better monitor rival North Korea. China and Russia.
The activation of the US Korean Space Forces at the Osan airbase near Seoul came after North Korea tested a barrage of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles designed to strike the mainland of the United States. The US and its allies South Korea and Japan in recent months.
“Just 48 miles north of us there is an existential threat; a threat that we must be prepared to deter, defend and, if necessary, defeat,” Lt. Col. Joshua McCullion, head of the new space unit, said during the activation ceremony in Osan. He was apparently referring to North Korea, whose heavily fortified border with South Korea is just an hour’s drive from the South’s capital Seoul.
The Space Force was soberly seen as an affirmation of the need to organize more effectively for the defense of US interests in space, especially satellites used for navigation, intelligence, and civil and military communication. An earlier Pentagon report said that China and Russia had embarked on extensive efforts to develop technologies that would enable them to disrupt or destroy US and allied satellites in a crisis or conflict.
US Space Forces Korea is subordinate to a larger US Space Forces unit established within the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii last month.
Jung Chang Wook, head of the Korea Defense Study Forum think tank in Seoul, said the US Space Force was created to bring together various surveillance assets, including space satellites, into one organization to manage and develop them in a systemic and effective way. He said his unit in South Korea would function as a field unit, while the other in the Indo-Pacific Command would be his headquarters.
“The US Space Forces in Korea would maintain, operate, and test related equipment. Simply speaking, I would say that the actual US space operations will take place at the Osan airbase,” Jung said. He said that the main role of the US Space Forces in Korea would be to receive, process and analyze a large amount of data and information transmitted by US satellites.
“The US military is faster, better connected, more informed, accurate and deadly because of space,” General Paul LaCamera, commander of the 28,500 US troops in South Korea, said during the ceremony. “Specifically, the activation here today of the US Space Forces in Korea… enhances our ability to defend the homelands and ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.”
The US military in South Korea said that one of the main mission areas the space unit will focus on in South Korea is “missile warning operations, which provide theater detection and warning almost in real time of ballistic missile launches”. He said the new unit’s tasks also include coordinating space operations and services such as position and synchronization navigation, and satellite communications within the region.
Jung said the launch of a space unit in South Korea was probably primarily aimed at better monitoring North Korea, followed by China and then Russia.
The United States and South Korea have expanded their regular military exercises and pushed to further strengthen their combined defense capability against the advance of North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea has threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively in potential conflicts with the United States and South Korea, and the US military has warned the North that the use of nuclear weapons “will result in the end of that regime.”
Associated Press video journalist Kim Yong Ho in Osan, South Korea contributed to this report.
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