Five North Korean drones crossed South Korean airspace on Monday, prompting the South Korean military to deploy warplanes and attack helicopters, the country’s defense ministry said.
The ministry said the South Korean military fired shots at the drones, but added it could not confirm whether any drones were shot down.
Lee Seung-oh, a South Korean defense official, said four of the drones flew around Ganghwa Island and one over the capital Seoul’s northern airspace.
“This is a clear provocation and invasion of our airspace by North Korea,” Lee said during a briefing. In response to the airspace violation, Lee said, the South Korean military deployed its manned and unmanned reconnaissance assets to the inter-Korean border region, with some of them encroaching on North Korean territory.
The assets conducted a reconnaissance mission, including filming North Korea’s military installations, Lee added.
The South Korean military first spotted the drones in the sky near the northwestern city of Gimpo around 10:25 a.m. local time on Monday, according to the country’s defense ministry.
The last time a North Korean drone was spotted below the inter-Korean border was in 2017, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. At the time, South Korea said it recovered a downed North Korean drone that was spying on a US-built missile system in the country.
North Korea has aggressively stepped up its missile tests this year, often firing multiple weapons at once. It has fired rockets on 36 separate days – the highest annual tally since Kim Jong Un took power in 2012.
Most recently, South Korean officials said North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday. The missiles were fired from the Sunan area of Pyongyang into the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The mysterious country usually tests its missiles this way, firing them at a high angle to land in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
In October, however, it fired an Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) on a normal trajectory overflying Japan for the first time in five years.
In November, it claimed to have launched a “new type” of ICBM, Hwasong-17, from Pyongyang International Airfield, a missile that could theoretically reach the mainland United States. And last week, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister and a top regime official, claimed in state media that North Korea is ready to test an ICBM on a normal trajectory, a flight pattern that could prove that the Weapons can threaten the continental United States.
Experts from the United States and South Korea have warned that Pyongyang could be preparing for a nuclear test, the first in more than five years. North Korea has been developing its nuclear missile forces in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and has stepped up activities since the last of three meetings in 2019 between Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump failed to reach an agreement.
In October, Kim warned his nuclear forces were fully prepared for “actual war.”
“Our nuclear combat troops … have once again demonstrated their full readiness for actual war to bring the enemy under their control,” Kim said in comments reported by the north’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.