North Korea’s Drones: Threat or No Threat?

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North Korean drones entered South Korean airspace on Monday for the first time since 2017 in the latest example of escalating tensions between the neighbouring countries.

The South’s military was caught off guard, drawing criticism on Tuesday from President Yoon Suk-yeol, who sought to assuage concerns by announcing his cabinet would fast-track plans for a special drone unit.
What happened yesterday?
What: Five North Korean drones crossed into South Korea on Monday, prompting Seoul to scramble fighter jets and attack helicopters to try and shoot them down.
When: The drones were first detected in South Korea at 10:25am (01:25 GMT)
Where: The drones were first spotted over the northwestern city of Gimpo but flew over multiple South Korean cities, including the capital, Seoul.
South Korea’s military fired warning shots and some 100 rounds from a helicopter equipped with a machine gun but failed to bring down any of the drones.

The military said it chased one of the five drones over the greater Seoul area but did not fully aggressively engage with it out of concern for civilian safety.

A defence ministry official confirmed a South Korean KA-1 fighter jet was involved in an accident while flying to counter North Korea’s drones after departing its Wonju base in the country’s north. Its two pilots escaped before the crash and were treated in a hospital.

What has the reaction been in South Korea?
President Yoon expressed concern on Tuesday at the military’s inability to bring down the drones at a time when the country is looking to combat the North’s evolving nuclear and missile threats.

“The incident showed a substantial lack of our military’s preparedness and training for the past several years and clearly confirmed the need for more intense readiness and training,” Yoon told a cabinet meeting.

South Korea’s military later apologised for failing to shoot down the North Korean drones.

“The incident caught the South’s military off guard, exposing the immaturity of its responses,” said Cha Du-hyeogn, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “They will need to check their GPS jamming and overall response systems.”

The president said the country would create a military unit specialising in drones in response to Monday’s incursion.