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North Korean drones send shock waves across South

Source:KENTARO OGURA, Nikkei staff writer/asia.nikkei.com/

SEOUL — The apparent ease with which a drone believed to be of North Korean origin shot photos of the presidential palace in Seoul without being detected has some South Koreans worried.

Photos of the building complex known as the Blue House were found in the unmanned aircraft, which crashed on March 24 in Paju, near the border with North Korea. A spokesperson for South Korea’s defense ministry said in a news conference on Thursday that the drone is likely to have come from North Korea, partly because Hangul writing on the battery used a spelling unique to the North.

The drone’s body was made of polycarbonate, which is difficult for radar to detect, and it was also painted sky blue to make it less visible to the naked eye. According to South Korean media, a Canon camera was mounted on the bottom and the plane could fly for about two hours, covering a distance of 150km.

Based on reports and information provided by defense officials, the drone likely reached the Blue House by flying at a speed of about 100kph but crashed on its way back to North Korea. The drone reportedly was not remotely controlled but instead flew by following a program inputted in advance. Although it had wireless equipment on board, this was not connected to the camera so the 193 images shot during its mission were not transmitted during flight.

The drone was relatively primitive and has little capacity to carry explosives or other payloads, according to reports. A defense official said that although there is little risk of North Korea using drones to commit terrorist acts against South Korea at present, the aircraft may be fully capable of such missions one day with long-term improvements.

Another drone crashed on Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on Monday. The defense ministry believes that this was also from North Korea.

Drones are increasingly used in actual fighting by the U.S. and others, and many countries are developing their own. If North Korea was indeed behind the drones that infiltrated South Korean airspace, then the South will have to deal with a new threat. Some are calling for high-output radar to be installed to detect small, unmanned aircraft.