North Korean Drone Flew By Southern Presidential Palace in Central Seoul

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Following reports that five North Korean drones flew deep into South Korean airspace on December 26, one of which reached the capital before returning to base, a South Korean military official conceded on December 5 that one of the aircraft flew into a high security no fly zone over the presidential office in central Seoul. This came after any violation of the zone had been strongly denied by the south’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, which slammed early media reports that this may have occurred as “untrue and groundless.” North Korea’s inability to acquire manned aircraft for over two decades, and the resulting antiquated state of much of its air force, is thought to have strongly influenced southern complacency in the field of air defence. The country’s most capable fighter the MiG-29, licence produced domestically, has been restricted to air defence duties including intercepting American reconnaissance planes in the past, and is not optimised to strike or reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. North Korea’s development of a range of modern drone designs, however, has provided it with modern assets well suited to penetrating southern airspace.

Beyond suspected complacency by South Korea in guarding its airspace, a significant possibility of North Korea acquiring stealth drone technologies from Iran was reported by Korean security scholar A. B. Abrams from in March 2021. Small and medium sized drones have proven difficult to defend against in a number of recent conflicts, with Iranian drones proving highly survivable when deploying for operations in Israeli airspace while lower end Iranian designs exported to Russia have placed considerable pressure on Ukrainian air defences from October 2022. Security breaches involving North Korean drones are far from unprecedented, with a notable prior incident being the dropping of leaflets near U.S. military facilities. Drone operations over South Korea are seen to have been conducted primarily to highlight North Korea’s potential to operate its unmanned aircraft very widely below the 38th parallel, which could complement its strengthening missile forces and air defences to help deter possible military action by Seoul or Washington. 

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