June 14, 2017 13:01
A North Korean drone that crashed on a remote mountain in Gangwon Province last week had been spying on a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. being stationed in southwestern Korea. The drone flew around 270 km south of the heavily fortified border separating the two Koreas and appears to have crashed on its way back north after running out of fuel.
South Korea is probably the only country in the world that causes so much commotion in the process of deploying a major defensive weapons system like THAAD. The former administration, which caved in to mounting opposition from radical civic groups and local residents, ended up practically broadcasting the location around the world.
With so much information available to the public, North Korea had no trouble pinpointing the location of the THAAD battery. But at any rate news organizations in the South also flew their own drones and helicopters over the site, so the North could have saved itself the trouble and just watched TV. Still, about 10 photos found on the drone camera's memory stick would have given the North Korean regime a clearer picture of the THAAD battery and how it works.
If the drone had not crashed, nobody here would have even known about the surveillance. The photos look sufficiently similar to what North Korean state TV last month claimed were "satellite images" of the site as to suggest that this was probably not the only drone that spied on it. This could well mean that the North also has detailed footage of other, more secret military installations. Drones found in Paju north of Seoul, as well as Baeknyeong Island on the West Sea and Samcheok in Gangwon Province in 2014 had maximum ranges of 180 to 300 km, but the most recent one can fly much further.
Back then, Cheong Wa Dae was thought to be exposed to North Korean drones, prompting the government to bolster low-altitude radar capabilities. But that was clearly not enough to keep up with advances in North Korea's drone technology. There are mounting concerns that the North could make drones capable of dropping small bombs.
The drama that unfolded around the deployment of the THAAD battery was a farce, with the battery eventually ending up on a golf course. Now everyone knows where it is, what it looks like, and how to get there. Some groundless rumors flew about the web that melons grown in Seongju are contaminated by the radiation emitted by the THAAD's radar.
Now locals have blocked the main access road to the golf course, so the U.S. Forces Korea have to fly in fuel for the generator by helicopter, and that is not enough to keep the supposedly defensive system going. Local police are standing on the sidelines with their arms folded.
China worries that the THAAD's X-band radar is snooping on its military moves in the region, and the government is treating the battery as nothing more than a headache, rather than a much-needed defense against North Korea's rapidly developing missiles.
The latest bright idea the administration came up with is to conduct a detailed environmental survey before the remaining launchers are deployed, though for some reason the ones that have already been set up can stay without being environmentally assessed.
The previous administration did rush the deployment, but it was hardly the night-and-fog "smuggling" operation some in the ruling party portray it as. By now the whole issue has deteriorated into a region-wide political football. All the while, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must be laughing into his sleeve.
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