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North Korea claims British aircraft carrier pictured by new spy satellite

HMS Prince of Wales arriving back in Portsmouth after a year long re-fit after breaking down in the Solent in August 2022
HMS Prince of Wales was one of a series of images taken at Naval Station Norfolk - STEVE REIGATE/STEVE REIGATE

North Korea has claimed its newly launched military surveillance satellite has taken photos of a British aircraft carrier as well as US Navy vessels, the White House and the Pentagon.

Pyongyang last week successfully launched its first reconnaissance satellite, which it said was intended to monitor US and South Korean military activities. The launch was internationally condemned, amid concerns it could provide cover for the country’s illegal missile technology.

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, personally viewed the latest imagery, taken late on Monday night, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Tuesday.

The account, which could not be verified and did not publish the photos, claimed four US Navy nuclear aircraft carriers and a British aircraft carrier were spotted in a series of images taken at Naval Station Norfolk, Newport News Shipyard and a Virginia airfield.

‘A big leap’

According to a US Fleet Forces news release in late September, the UK’s largest aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, planned to “make Naval Station Norfolk” on the East Coast its temporary home port for a few months for F-35 fighter aircraft and drone drills.

The ship, on its Twitter account, also wished a happy thanksgiving on Nov 24 to its hosts in Norfolk. The Royal Navy was contacted for comment on the latest claims by Pyongyang.

The US National Security Council told South Korean news agency Newsis that it could not independently verify Pyongyang’s claims but urged the North to immediately stop “its provocative actions and instead choose engagement”.

Since the launch last week, North Korea has reportedly captured images of cities and military bases in South Korea, Guam and Italy.

However, analysts and foreign governments have questioned the satellite’s capabilities and the usefulness of its pictures.

Dave Schmerler, a satellite imagery expert at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, told Reuters that for medium-resolution satellites to be useful in a conflict, North Korea would need to launch many more to allow more frequent passes over key sites.

“It’s a big leap for them going from zero to something, but until we can see the images they’re collecting, we’re speculating on its use cases,” he said.

Pyongyang’s defiance in sending the satellite into orbit triggered the collapse of a 2018 military pact that had been agreed with South Korea to suspend surveillance activities along their high-security border.

Both countries have now vowed to restore guard posts, with Seoul reporting that armed North Korean soldiers had already been spotted doing so.

North Korea’s actions along the border risk military tensions rising and miscalculations, a state department spokesperson said on Monday.

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