Drones ruled out for spying under a pact with North

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Drones ruled out for spying under a pact with North

Seoul sacrificed a multi-billion won military project to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by signing a comprehensive military agreement with North Korea last month, a South Korean lawmaker from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said Sunday.

Citing information from the National Defense Ministry, Rep. Lee Jong-myeong, a member of the parliamentary National Defense Committee, said the South Korean military spent 177.5 billion won ($157 million) on a reconnaissance initiative to develop UAVs and deploy them along the inter-Korean border to spy on the North.

But because of the military agreement with Pyongyang during the third South-North summit, the South Korean military will no longer be able to fulfill that original purpose because the agreement spells out a no-fly zone above the border between the two countries beginning in November.

An official from the ministry who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday on the condition of anonymity acknowledged the new “operational restriction,” adding that the project was meant to look as far as 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) into the North from the military demarcation line (MDL) in favorable weather conditions. The UAVs can be controlled from 60 kilometers away, the source said.

Both Koreas agreed in the military pact to establish a buffer zone for fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and UAVs in order to prevent military confrontations near the demilitarized zone (DMZ). For UAVs, the no-fly area extends 15 kilometers from the MDL on the eastern frontline and 10 kilometers on the western frontline. The agreement goes into effect on Nov. 1. The South Korean military originally planned to fly the UAVs between the MDL and Southern Limit Line, which is 2 kilometers south of the MDL.

Sources in the South Korean military said the UAV project, begun in 2010 by the Lee administration, is under review, and the aircraft may be used mainly for training.

BY LEE KEUN-PYUNG, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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