(RFI) South Korea accused North Korea of invading its airspace with several drones on Monday (26), prompting the country to mobilize fighter jets to try to shoot down the devices. The overflight was considered a provocation and was the first incursion by North Korean drones into South Korea’s airspace in five years.
“Several North Korean drones have invaded our airspace in the border area near Gyeonggi Province,” the South Korean General Staff said in a statement, highlighting a “clear act of provocation.”
The South Korean Army fired warning shots and mobilized fighter jets and combat helicopters to try to shoot down the five identified drones. One of them managed to get close to the capital Seoul.
One of the aircraft mobilized to intercept the devices, a KA-1 fighter jet, crashed in the Hoengseong area, according to the Yonhap news agency. The South Korean Army did not report whether the drones were shot down or returned to the North Korean side.
Seoul’s forces have sent their own devices, both piloted and unpiloted, along the demarcation line between the two Koreas and also north of that line. The purpose, according to officials, is “operational” and “reconnaissance,” with the recording of photographs of “enemy military installations,” the South Korean General Staff said. “Our military will continue to respond in a determined manner to such provocations by North Korea,” the South Korean government stressed.
Civilian drone flights were temporarily suspended at Gimpo and Incheon international airports near Seoul for an hour at the request of the South Korean General Staff.
“Taking into consideration the low level of development of North Korean drones, there is little possibility that they have attack capabilities befitting modern weaponry,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. He pointed out that this was the first time that flights had been suspended in South Korea for the action of North Korean drones. According to the expert, the drones’ mission was focused on espionage.
The incursion comes at a time of great tension, after several weapons tests by Pyongyang in recent months, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korea’s use of drones is a growing concern for Seoul. Pyongyang denies its involvement in the maneuvers and accuses South Korea of producing false evidence against the country.
In 2017, Seoul’s military fired warning shots at a flying object that entered its airspace from North Korea. A year earlier, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at a suspected North Korean drone that had crossed the border. In September 2015, South Korea issued an anti-aircraft alert, as well as sending an attack helicopter and a fighter plane to track a drone that had entered its territory, but without success.
South Korean President criticizes North Korean drone response and promises to create new unit
(Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Tuesday he will promote the creation of a military unit specializing in drones, criticizing the country’s military’s response to a border invasion by North Korean drones.
Five North Korean drones flew over South Korea on Monday, prompting Seoul to send fighter jets and attack helicopters and attempt to shoot them down, in the first such occurrence since 2017.
The incident reignited questions about South Korea’s air defenses at a time when the country is trying to contain North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
The military fired warning shots and about 100 rounds from a helicopter equipped with a machine gun, but failed to shoot down any of the drones as they flew over several South Korean cities, including the capital, Seoul, for about five hours.
“The incident showed a substantial lack of preparedness and training of our military in recent years and clearly confirmed the need for more intensive readiness and training,” Yoon said at a cabinet meeting.
Yoon blamed the lack of preparedness on his predecessor’s “dangerous” policy toward North Korea, which was based on Pyongyang’s “good intentions” and a 2018 inter-Korean military pact that prohibited hostile activities in border areas.
“We have planned to establish a drone unit to monitor and reconnoiter key North Korean military facilities, and now we will accelerate the plan as much as possible,” he added, promising to increase its surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with cutting-edge drones.