Pyongyang may mass produce drones

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Pyongyang may mass produce drones

The Ministry of Defense yesterday said that all three digital camera-equipped unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) found in South Korea carried one- or two-digit numbers, raising suspicions that North Korea - which Seoul has identified as the operator of the drones - mass produced them.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a briefing yesterday that the drone that was discovered after crashing in the border town of Paju on March 24 had the numeral 24 inscribed on it.

“The figures appeared to have been handwritten with a black marker, which is true for the other two drones,” he added.

The drone discovered on Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on March 31 carried the numeral 6 and the one found in the eastern coastal city of Samcheok in Gangwon last October was marked 35.

The latter was spotted by a resident of the city six months earlier, but he didn’t report the finding until after reading news articles about the other drones.

“The numbers inscribed on the drones seem to signify the order of their production,” said an official with the ministry. “North Korea either possesses or has infiltrated into the Southern part of the demarcation zone tens of such drones.”

Some of the evidence that led South Korea to tentatively conclude the UAVs were from North Korea include Korean spellings on the batteries of the drones discovered in Paju and Baengnyeong Island.

Despite using the same language, South and North Korea have developed different dialects and spelling systems over the decades of separation.

The drone from Samcheok did not carry the North Korean language on its battery, only showing Roman numerals.

However, the Defense Ministry maintained a cautious stance over positing North Korea’s mass production of the drones for aerial reconnaissance.

“It is hard to say the numbers are proof of mass production since they were handwritten, not written with a machine,” said spokesman Kim. “The drones found in Paju and Samcheok look similar, but their sizes differ and the colorings are also dissimilar.”

If the government investigation officially confirms the three drones are from North Korea, the Defense Ministry may reward the citizens who spotted and reported them. Regulations directly pertaining to a reward for the discovery of drones do not exist, according to a source with the military, but related rules are being closely looked at. Currently people who report a spy may receive up to 500 million won ($473,754) as a reward.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry has been receiving a flood of reports about similar objects.

“We have been getting a particularly large number of reports from regions around Munsan and Paju [both inter-Korean border towns],” said another Defense Ministry official. “But the majority of those reports only say they have seen drones flying above them in the sky.”

Another source with the military claims North Korea started dispatching drones from around 2007. “I reported to the authority, but they decided not to react,” he said. The reason was that drones were hard to detect with radar.

BY JUNG YONG-SOO, SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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