Seoul Must Prepare for N.Korean Drone Threat

The Defense Ministry says an investigation of the crashed unmanned aerial vehicles found in Paju, Baeknyeong Island and Gangwon Province shows strong evidence linking them with North Korea. It said investigators found plenty of "circumstantial evidence."

But the ministry decided to wait until a more comprehensive investigation of the drones' memory chips is complete before it complains to the North.

The drones were equipped with commercial components from China, the Czech Republic, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland and the U.S., including Samsung's 4-mega DRAM memory chips. An aviation expert said the technology "is very basic, similar to devices built by South Korean university students a few years ago."

Military drones around the world are remote-controlled using computers and communication equipment built into them, but the North Korean UAVs flew only according to pre-programmed GPS coordinates.

But even these rudimentary UAVs managed to take aerial photos of Cheong Wa Dae and spied on military facilities around Baeknyeong Island even as North Korean artillery fired rounds at the Northern Limit Line. Detecting them is not an easy task since they are less than 2 m long.

But what really exercised the public was the way the military handled itself after the drones were discovered. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin was briefed that they were believed to be of North Korean origin nine days after the first one was discovered. Military and intelligence officials were unprepared to deal with them, even though North Korea threatened several times two years ago to use such weapons against the South. That is why three rudimentary UAVs partly held together with gaffer tape stoked something like a panic.

But North Korea will keep improving its UAV technology, as its nuclear weapons program clearly shows. Soon the drones will be advanced enough to carry weapons of mass destruction, including chemical bombs. The South needs to prepare for this. That does not mean it should rush to buy expensive surveillance equipment, but it needs to understand the security concerns and set its defense priorities by looking ahead.
englishnews@chosun.com / Apr. 14, 2014 12:14 KST