Investigation of drones’ origin not 100% certain

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Investigation of drones’ origin not 100% certain

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said it was “certain” that the three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, that took photos of several frontline military bases and the Blue House, were sent from North Korea.

Still, the ministry said it will launch a special investigation team formed of Korean and U.S. experts to analyze the GPS system of the drones in order to identify precisely where the aircraft took off from.

“So far, we found multiple evidence to prove that it was North Korea [that sent the drones across the border] through a joint investigation team [of military and civilian analysts] on the characteristics of the crafts and the equipment inside them,” said Kim Jong-seong, an official of the South Korea’s Defense Ministry, at a briefing on the ongoing investigation into the drones yesterday.

The ministry displayed the three drones at the briefing.

The first UAV was found on March 24 in the border town of Paju in Gyeonggi, and the second on March 31 on Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. The drone found in Paju had apparently taken photos of the Blue House.

A third drone, discovered in Samcheok, Gangwon, crashed last October and was found by a nearby resident who didn’t report it until after reading about the other two UAVs.

According to Kim, the investigators have not yet examined the memory chips inside the drones, which may contain their GPS flight records. That could prove whether they took off from North Korean territory or not.

“In general, there is data in a memory chip that orders a drone to fly a certain route,” Kim said.

Kim said that the memory chips inside the drones were made in China and that the team had never seen such chips before.

“We obtained an instruction manual for the Chinese chips recently and completed the translation last week,” he said. “Even if we read the instructions, the chips could be broken or reset if we handle them without preparation.”

The three drones used components made in various countries, including South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, according to the briefing. The central processing units of the drones appeared to have had brand labels that were removed, he said.

A key to proving the origin of the drones is examining the pictures taken by the cameras on the crafts.

The drones found in Paju and on Baengnyeong Island took photos of many South Korean military units near the border, he said.

The one that crashed in Paju traveled south along South Korea’s national expressway, Route No. 1, and then turned and flew North.

The drone that crashed on Baengnyeong Island hovered among Socheong Island and Daecheong Island, both of which are frontline islands in the Yellow Sea, in an S-patterned route.

The local who found the drone in Samcheok threw away its camera and reused its memory stick.

Considering the speeds of the two drones, which varied from 180 kilometers (111.8 miles) to 300 kilometers per hour, it is considered impossible for them to have been sent from a faraway country such as China or Japan.

The color and patterns on the exterior of the three drones are similar to drones unveiled by North Korea in 2012 and 2013, according to the ministry.

North Korea unveiled blue-colored drones with patterns of clouds on them at a military parade in April 2012. The North’s official state media introduced the drones as “unmanned attack aircraft.”

Fingerprints found on the drones from Paju and Baengnyeong Island were not in the national database.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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