The U.S. military’s space branch has launched its first foreign command in South Korea, a move widely seen as Washington’s efforts to keep tabs on rivals North Korea, China and Russia.
The US Space Force unit, which is the first of its kind outside US soil, was activated in a ceremony at Osan Air Base, 65 km south of Seoul.
The Space Force is the newest branch of the military in more than seven decades launched in December 2019 under then President Donald Trump.
During the activation ceremony, the head of the new space unit, Lt. Col. Joshua McCullion, suggested the unit would help prepare for and defend against regional threats, including from North Korea, which is just 48 miles north of the facility.
“Only 48 miles north of us exists an existential threat; a threat that we must be prepared to deter, counter and – if necessary – defeat,” he told Osan, without referring directly to Pyongyang.
The move is expected to reignite new tensions with North Korea, which has conducted a record number of missile tests this year. It has also tested a barrage of nuclear-capable missiles that can hit the American mainland and its allies in South Korea as well as Japan.
It also comes as the United States and South Korea expand their partnership and conduct regular military exercises to strengthen their defense capabilities against threats from North Korea and the advancement of the nuclear program.
The US military had warned the North that the use of nuclear weapons “would bring about the end of this regime” as Pyongyang appears set to carry out its seventh test.
Lt. Col. McCullion acknowledged that the US Space Force, whose members are referred to as “Guardians”, has become a subject of media satire for its emblem’s similarity to Star Trek.
According to the U.S. military in South Korea, one of the main mission areas the space unit will focus on is “missile warning operations, which provide near real-time detection and warning in theater ballistic missile launches.
It will also coordinate space operations and services such as position navigation and timing, and satellite communications in the region.
Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, said activating the facility will enhance Washington’s ability to defend the homeland and ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in Asia. from the North East.
“The United States military is faster, better connected, more informed, precise and deadly thanks to space,” he said.
US Space Forces Korea is a subordinate of a larger US Space Force 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 Korean unit would operate as a field unit while the other from the Indo-Pacific Command would be its headquarters.
“US Korea Space Forces would maintain, operate and evaluate related equipment. Simply put, I would say that US space operations will take place at Osan Air Base,” Jung said.
He said the facility will operate by receiving, processing and analyzing massive amounts of data and information transmitted by US satellites.