- Catherine Armstrong
- BBC News
South Korea’s military has apologized for failing to shoot down five drones that North Korea sent over their shared border on Monday.
South Korea fired warning shots, and sent attack and non-attack helicopters to shoot down the planes, one of which flew near the capital, Seoul.
Despite the five-hour manhunt, all the drones were reported to have returned to North Korea.
The South Korean president said the incident showed that the military’s readiness “was greatly deficient”.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, which represents the main branches of its armed forces, acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that while the military can counter “attack drones that pose a real threat,” its ability to detect and strike smaller drones used for espionage is limited.
“Our military’s lack of preparation has caused people a lot of anxiety,” said a senior official, Kang Shin-chul.
He added that the army “will actively use detection devices to detect enemy drones at an early stage, and deploy equipment to hit them hard.”
The BBC’s Jane Mackenzie in Seoul said it was worrying because the drones that flew near Seoul had the ability to conduct surveillance and photograph sensitive areas.
South Korean President Yoon Sok Yul said at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday that he would seek to speed up the creation of a military unit to monitor North Korea’s military facilities in response to Monday’s incident, and that unit would be equipped with advanced drones.
He blamed his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, for his “dangerous” policy towards North Korea that included a 2018 military agreement banning hostile activities in the border areas between the two Koreas.
The drone incident, which was monitored on Monday, was the first time in five years that North Korean drones entered the airspace of the South’s neighbor, and it comes amid escalating tensions on the peninsula, as North Korea conducted a record number of missile tests this year.
Local media reported another possible sighting of a drone in South Korea on Tuesday, but the defense ministry said it was a flock of birds.
North Korea claimed, earlier this month, that it conducted major tests necessary to help it develop its first spy satellite, which could be used to monitor South Korea.
It released an aerial photo of Seoul that it said was taken during the test.
Experts believe that North Korea is working to refine and improve its weapons, in order to pressure the United States to ease sanctions in any future negotiations.