North Korea 'developing more sophisticated aerial drones', warns South as tensions simmer

South Korea estimates North has around 300 observation drones and 10 machines capable of conducting attacks with weapons

Safya Khan-Ruf
Tuesday 20 December 2016 13:10 GMT
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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (KCNA/Reuters)

North Korea is developing bigger drones with advanced capabilities, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap, citing government sources.

“The North is building larger drones with greater range and with the capability to be flown remotely by flight controllers,” an official from Seoul's defence ministry reportedly said. Yonhap stated the drones were undergoing test flights and had been spotted multiple times by Seoul since the start of the year.

South Korea estimates that the North has approximately 300 observation drones and around 10 machines capable of conducting attacks with weapons. Pyongyang unveiled its attack drone during a military parade in 2013.

Christoph Bluth, professor of International Relations and Security at Bradford University, said these figures were probably true but that North Korean designs were unlikely to match the sophistication of Western drones. “The US and South Korea have enhanced their radar capabilities to cope with UAVs. Drones can only effectively operate in an environment in which the party operating them has air superiority. This is not the case on the Korean peninsula,” he added.

In the past, South Korean authorities have been able to keep track of the North's drone developments in large parts due to the crashed vehicles found on southern territory. The news agency did not provide any clear images but asserted the drones had tracking capabilities and could be used to check the atmosphere, detect forest fires and observe fishing grounds.

North Korea has obtained technology from Russia and China in the past to develop their drone’s programme. “The North clearly seems to be interested in building its own UAV to replace the old imported machines,” another source at the Korea Defence and Security Forum was quoted as saying.

Last September, Yonhap announced South Korea was designing a new air defence system to shoot down North Korean drones within their borders. The plans reportedly included laser weapons and electromagnetic pulses.

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