Yoon Suk-Yeol criticizes his own country’s military response to the North’s drones

Yoon Suk Yeol

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during an interview with Reuters in Seoul, South Korea November 28, 2022. REUTERS/Daewoung Kim

South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol has said he will push for the creation of a specialized military drone unit, criticizing the military’s response to a North Korean drone border intrusion.

Five North Korean drones crossed into South Korea on Monday, prompting Seoul to send in fighter jets and attack helicopters and try to shoot them down, in the first such intrusion since 2017.

The incident reignited questions about South Korea’s air defenses at a time when it is trying to curb evolving nuclear and missile threats from the North.

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 hovered over several South Korean cities, including the capital Seoul, for about five hours.

“The incident revealed a substantial lack of preparation and training of our military in recent years, and clearly confirmed the need for more intensive preparation and training,” Yoon told a cabinet meeting.

Yoon blamed the lack of preparation on the “dangerous” North Korean policy of his predecessor, who relied on Pyongyang’s “good intentions” and a 2018 inter-Korean military pact that prohibited hostile activities in border areas.

“We have been planning to set up a drone unit to monitor and reconnaissance major North Korean military installations, and now we will speed up the plan as much as possible,” he added, vowing to boost its surveillance and reconnaissance capability with state-of-the-art stealth drones.

The military said it pursued one of the five drones over the greater Seoul area, but was unable to aggressively target it due to concerns for the safety of civilians.

The incident reignited questions about South Korea’s air defenses at a time when it is trying to curb evolving nuclear and missile threats from the North.

“We operated with detection, tracking and firing means, but there were areas where there could be harm to civilians,” a Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) official told a briefing on Tuesday, December 27. “So there were difficulties in carrying out the operations.”

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The incident was the latest UAV intrusion into the airspace of the isolated North, where the two Koreas are still technically at war after their 1950-53 war ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

In 2017, a North Korean drone believed to be on a spy mission crashed and was found on a mountain near the border. In 2014, a North Korean drone was discovered on a South Korean border island.
Those devices were considered rudimentary, mounted with cameras.

The JCS said the latest drones were small, around two meters (79 inches), but it was not clear if they are more technically advanced.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has publicly shown interest in drones, vowing at a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party last year to develop new reconnaissance drones capable of flying up to 500 km (311 miles).

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