In early June, a South Korean resident stumbled upon a crashed drone in a remote forest in Inje County. Officials say the drone is a North Korean spy military drone purposed with photographing U.S. anti-missile defense systems in South Korea.
According to the LA Times, the sky-blue drone flew over 5 hours into South Korea and took over 550 pictures, including photos of a repurposed golf course 180 miles southeast of Seoul that houses the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed to shoot North Korean projectiles out of the air.
The drone lacked any weapons systems, and possessed only a 35 mm camera mounted on the front end. The engine appears to be made in the Czech Republic, and the engine's failure is believed to have caused the drone's crash. South Korean officials are calling the drone's flight into South Korean airspace an "unlawful incursion."
“It’s a military provocation. It’s an agent spying on a neighboring country’s military information,” said Kim Dong-yub, professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. “It’s the same as sending a spy.”
The LA Times reports that this particular drone does not possess the same kind of sophisticated technology that allows for real-time reconnaissance, and was pre-programmed with GPS coordinates to set its course, so it is unlikely that any images captured by the drone were transmitted back to North Korea.
According to Reuters, South Korea's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the drone's size and shape matches one belonging to North Korea that was recovered on an island near the North Korean border in 2014. South Korea said that this was one of three drones that were recovered in border towns that year.
A subsequent 2014 United Nations report stated that North Korea has somewhere around 300 drones with different purposes, including reconnaissance, targeting, and combat. The U.N. report also stated that the North Koreans possibly secured the parts for the drones through front companies in China that bought parts from China, the Czech Republic, and even the United States.
Regardless of North Korea's lack of advanced spy drone technology, some South Korean officials believe that this downed drone raises serious questions. Kim Young-woo, chair of the South Korean National Assembly's defense committee, has called for a special task force to investigate the North Korean drone issue.
“Our airspace has been infiltrated by North Korea,” said Kim, and asked why the country is spending around $35 billion a year on defense when "our radar can’t detect small drones?”
Currently, the Trump administration has begun putting together strategies on dealing with the escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, including military options. Also, the U.S. has been beefing up its military presence near the Korean peninsula, including the inclusion of two aircraft carriers, as well as flyovers with supersonic bombers.