South Korean President Slams Military’s Response to North Korea’s Drones, Calls for ‘Intense’ Training

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
December 27, 2022Asia & Pacific
South Korean President Slams Military’s Response to North Korea’s Drones, Calls for ‘Intense’ Training
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a ceremony marking Korean Memorial Day at the Seoul National cemetery on June 06, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The president of South Korea has criticized the military’s response after it failed to shoot down any of the five North Korean drones that violated its airspace on Monday.

“Yesterday, North Korea’s military drones invaded our airspace. The incident showed a substantial lack of our military’s preparedness and training for the past several years, and clearly confirmed the need for more intense readiness and training,” President Yoon Suk-yeol said during a meeting on Tuesday.

“Using yesterday’s incident as momentum, we will expedite the plan to create a drone unit as soon as possible,” he added. “Then we will boost its surveillance and reconnaissance capability with cutting-edge stealthy drones.”

On Monday, Maj. Gen. Lee Seung-O, South Korea’s director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military detected “unidentified objects” in Gyeonggi Province that were believed to be invading North Korean military drones.

The incursion prompted the military to deploy fighter jets and attack helicopters, shooting roughly 100 rounds at the drones. However, the military failed to shoot down any of the drones while they flew over a number of South Korean cities, including the capital, where the incident caused public concern.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Seung-O apologized for the military’s failed response, noting that a “lack of preparedness” has caused residents to question South Korea’s air defenses at a time when it is trying to rein in North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats.

“Our military’s lack of preparedness has caused a lot of concern to the people,” Seung-O said. “So, our military will thoroughly check each troop’s detection and strike assets against the enemy’s drone provocation, and actively employ detection devices to spot the enemy’s drone from an early stage and aggressively deploy strike assets.”

The military also said it could not aggressively attack the drones because of concerns over civilian safety, and pledged to improve anti-drone capabilities including strike assets, jamming and radar technology, and regular air defense drills.

Public’s Response

It was the first time in five years that a North Korean drone crossed the Military Demarcation Line and violated South Korea’s airspace.

In 2017, a suspected North Korean drone had taken photographs of an advanced U.S. anti-missile battery stationed in South Korea before it crashed while apparently on its way back home, officials said at the time.

On Tuesday, residents of South Korea’s capital, Seoul, expressed concern over the incursion.

“I think our response was much more insufficient than I thought it would be,” said Kim Ji-won, a 39-year-old resident who lives in Seoul’s Eunpyeong District, where one of the drones was spotted by the military.

“Maybe we are too dependent on the U.S. military,” Ji-won added. “And it looks like we’re always responding a little too late.”

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

Some residents, like 36-year-old Jeong Ji-yeon, said the incursion reminded them of drone warfare that has been utilized in recent conflicts, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’re seeing several attacks using weapons of mass destruction as well as chemical ones carried out by drones [in recent conflicts]. In a way, this incident clearly showed that it’s possible here too,” said Ji-Yeon.

Lee Dong-gon, a 27-year-old Eunpyeong District resident, said the North’s drone incursion doesn’t appear to be much of “a real threat.”

“I don’t see it as a real threat,” said Dong-gon. “I don’t know if there’s a direct threat. It just looks like a usual happening with North Korea, and I know this is something we should be prepared for, but it doesn’t really affect my life that much.”

The incident came just days after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters. The Dec. 23 test was the latest weapon demonstration since U.S. and South Korean warplanes conducted joint drills that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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