Suspected North Korean drone spied on THAAD, South’s military says

In this Friday, June 9, 2017, photo provided by South Korean Defense Ministry on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, a suspected North Korean drone is seen in a mountain in Inje, South Korea.


By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 13, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — A drone believed to have been sent by North Korea took photographs of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in South Korea, a defense ministry official said Tuesday.

A local resident found the Sony camera-equipped drone last week after it apparently crashed on a mountain near the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.

South Korea’s military discovered photos of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, after analyzing the content of the 64-gigabyte memory chip, the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity due to department rules.

The official said the photos were not high resolution and most of them were of forest land and residential areas. But more than 10 of the photos showed THAAD, presumably from an altitude of just over mile, in the southeastern area of Seongju, the official said.

More analysis was needed to determine if the drone had transmitted any photos, the official added.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff has said it suspects North Korea sent the drone, which has an 8-foot wingspan and is similar to several other drones found in the border region in 2014.

U.S. Forces Korea declined to comment on the report, referring questions to South Korea’s defense ministry.

Washington and Seoul agreed last year to deploy THAAD to counter a growing missile threat from the North, which persists with efforts to develop nuclear weapons despite international condemnation and punishing economic sanctions.

North Korea called the system, which is meant to work in conjunction with already-deployed Patriot missiles, a provocation aimed at bolstering the U.S. military’s influence in the region. China also strongly objects to the anti-missile battery, fearing the powerful radar could be used to spy on its military.

The Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea is believed to be operating more than 300 drones for military purposes, either for surveillance or the delivery of attack weapons.

South Korea’s military has expressed increasing concern about the North’s use of drones, although investigators said those found in 2014 were relatively low-tech and unable to transmit photos in real time.

Twitter: @kimgamel

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