- South Korea says five North Korean drones have entered South Korean airspace.
- It is the first time in years that North Korean drones have entered South Korean airspace.
- Fighter jets and helicopter gunships were used to shoot down the drones.
South Korea accused the North of flying several drones over their shared border on Monday, prompting Seoul’s military to use warplanes to shoot them down – with local media reporting that one of the planes later went down.
The incursion marked the first time North Korean drones had entered South Korean airspace in years and followed a recent spate of anti-sanctions weapons tests by Pyongyang.
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the military first spotted a suspected North Korean UAV in Gimpo airspace at 10:25 a.m. local time and “reacted immediately.”
“This is a clear act of provocation in which North Korea has invaded our airspace,” a JCS official told reporters.
The incursion prompted Seoul to fire warning shots and use fighter jets and helicopter gunships to shoot down the five drones, one of which reached airspace near the capital.
One of the fighter jets, a KA-1 light attack aircraft, later crashed in Hoengseong County, Yonhap News Agency reported.
The military did not say whether the objects were shot down or returned across the border, one of the most heavily fortified places in the world.
The South Korean military has also deployed its own manned and unmanned reconnaissance assets in areas near and north of the military demarcation line for “appropriate action”.
“We conducted reconnaissance and operational activities, including photographing key enemy military installations,” the JCS official said.
“Our military will continue to respond thoroughly and decisively to such provocations by North Korea,” he added.
According to Yonhap, quoting an official with South Korea’s Transportation Ministry, flights at Gimpo and Incheon International Airports – the country’s two main hubs – have been suspended for about an hour at the request of the JCS.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the incident marked the first time South Korean flights had been suspended due to “the emergence of North Korean drones,” adding that they were likely for espionage purposes.
“Considering the poor development level of drones in North Korea, there is little chance that they will have the drone attack capabilities used in modern warfare,” he added.
“It is speculated that they came to our area as part of reconnaissance training during last winter training.”
It was the first time North Korean drones had entered South Korean airspace in five years and the latest in a series of provocations from Pyongyang this year, including an unprecedented spate of weapons tests — including the launch of its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile yet.
Last week, Pyongyang also fired two short-range ballistic missiles and claimed it had developed new capabilities to capture images from space and said it was ready to launch a reconnaissance satellite by April next year.
The North’s drone operations are a growing security concern in Seoul, but Pyongyang has denied any involvement and accused South Korea of fabricating evidence.
In 2017, the Seoul military fired warning shots at a flying object entering the country’s airspace from North Korea via the demilitarized zone.
A year earlier, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at a suspected North Korean drone crossing the western part of the border, the most sensitive part of the demilitarized zone.
In September 2015, South Korea triggered an anti-aircraft warning and sent a helicopter gunship and a fighter jet to track a drone crossing the border, to no avail.
And in 2014, a South Korean fisherman found the wreckage of a North Korean drone in his net near a frontline island south of the rivals’ disputed Yellow Sea border.