In the past weekrecovered two unidentified unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) believed to be North Korean spy drones that were not detected by the South’s radar surveillance network. Following this incident is likely to probe its aerial surveillance capabilities, particularly with counter-UAV performance in mind.
Alarmed by the incursions,
stressed the urgent need to prepare more efficient countermeasures.
According to Korean defense officials, the drones were on intelligence
gathering missions but could be used on terror attack if adapted for
The drones were likely on intelligence gathering
missions, reflecting the intensive spying activities North Korea is
directing at the South. In recent years the ‘Democratic’ Republic of
Korea (DPRK) has invested significant efforts in the development of
unmanned platforms, which include intelligence gathering and attack
systems. Nevertheless, the level of sophistication demonstrated by the
two captured drones is not as advanced as could be expected, as the two
drones lack real-time communications or high resolution payloads
expected from such platforms. The vulnerability of the South to North
Korean drones was realized in 2010, during artillery barrages fired by
the north, Back then, the North reconnoitered areas near Baeknyeong and
Yeonpyeong Islands with a drone that flew undetected by radar and mostly
invisible to the naked eye.
military is preparing measures to deal with unmanned aerial vehicles,
including North Korea’s lightweight aircraft, to complement the
air-defense operation system,” a source at the defense ministry in Seoul
said. “The ministry will also consult with the related agencies to draw
up measures to control civilian UAVs and the registration system,” he
The presidential national security adviser Kim Jang-soo
presided over an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to
discuss how to beef up the country’s air defenses against such unmanned
aircraft, sources said. The plan will call up measures to defend against
such drones and other small aircraft that are hard to detect by radar
and strengthen regulations on civilian drones.
Following the North Korean drone incursions, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration ( ) said it is pushing to resume a troubled blimp development project, which has been delayed over technical problems.
“ will hold a meeting later this week to approve a plan to restart the surveillance airship project,” a
official said. “Although front-line troops have spotted unmanned aerial
vehicles believed to be sent by North Korea several times recently, the
low-altitude radar recognizes them as birds,” an Army official said,
commenting on the performance of existing TPS-830K low-level
surveillance radar in service with the n military. The military is considering purchasing advanced low-altitude surveillance radar to better monitor moving targets.
Demilitarized zone is located at a mountainous area north of the
capital, which clutters the view of ground-based radars, particularly at
low altitudes, where small drones are operating. The Air Force has
placed Gap Filler radar systems with a range of about 100 km in the
front, but even these are not fully covering the area.
also pushed to build a surveillance airship to better monitor the North
Korean military near the western maritime border, after North Korea
shelled a border island in November 2010, killing four people.
24 billion won (US$21.9 million) project initially aimed at deployment
from 2012, but has since been delayed as arms makers struggled to make
an airship suitable for the rapidly changing weather conditions in the
Seoul is also seeking to deploy GPS jamming systems
that are likely to disrupt the navigation systems guiding the North
Korean drones’ mission control systems. However, these systems could
also risk civil aviation traffic and friendly drones, as demonstrated
during a drone accident that killed an Austrian UAV technician in 2012.
drone found on March 24 was a small ‘mini UAV’ class vehicle, it flew
in a southward direction toward the capital Seoul, navigating by pre-set
GPS waypoints. After flying over the city and taking images of the
presidential office, the drone turned back toward north but crashed near
the town of Paju, close to the DMZ. Throughout its flight it was not
detected by the low-altitude surveillance radar, South Korean official
admitted. When investigators probed the drones’ camera they were amazed
to find pictures of military installations the residential quarters of
Seoul’s presidential compound.
The Defense Ministry said Sunday
that a wild-ginseng digger first found the drone in October of last year
on a mountain in Samcheok, Gangwon Province, and reported it to the
military authorities last Friday. It was of the same model found in Paju
last month. Preliminary analysis also shows the computer components
inside the drone contain chips and microprocessors released back in the
early 1990s, but have long been obsolete. There were almost certainly
many more that made the flight but made it back to the North safely.
true value of the intelligence is marginal. South Korean military
personnel commented, given the poor imaging quality of the payload and
lack of communications link, transferring images to the ground in
real-time. However, the virtual blindness of South Korean surveillance
against those drones render such systems a potential weapon application,
if equipped for terror attacks.
While the drones are based on
basic technology, both have demonstrated an alarming capability gap in
detecting and engaging unmanned aerial systems, particularly small and
miniature drones that often evade detection by radar or acoustic means.
The drone found in Paju was not detected by radar despite the fact it
loitered over Seoul’s presidential office and highway linking the
capital and the Demilitarized zone. This drone contained long shots of
Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential reception palace in Seoul, raising doubt
about the safety and protection of the airspace of the South Korean
The drone found a week later in the island of Baengnyeong
was larger, capable of flying at an altitude of 3 km with a maximum
speed of 162 km per hour, carrying a mission payload of 20-25 kg. This
drone was likely on post-mission surveillance, assessing South Korean
units deployment following the artillery exchange in that area, in which
North Korea fired 100 artillery rounds into the sea on the South Korean
side of the maritime border, prompting Seoul to fire its own rounds
back into northern waters. No one was injured in the exchange. This
drone was reportedly detected by radar but the air defense did not
engage it despite the fact it loitered over five different islands,
watching military installations, including the 6th Marine Brigade
stationed at the island in the midst of an artillery fire exchange
between the north and south Korean armies.
Pyongyang is not
limiting the use of drones for reconnaissance and intelligence. The
North Koreans reverse-engineered several models of the US made MQM-107D
Streaker targeting drones they acquired form Syria, modified into an
attack drone. The drones were displayed publicly for the first time in
April 2012 on a military parade in Pyongyang. They were demonstrated in
operation in 2013.
Although the drone retrieved in Baengnyeong
resembles that drone, the two platforms are different in size,
propulsion, payload configuration and capacity.
North Korea is
also believed to have used other types of unmanned aerial vehicles,
including drones whose design is based on China’s D-4 and R-3 Rey.