SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s front-line troops initially viewed North Korea’s drone infiltrations last month as a non-emergency situation, an assessment that caused a delay in the military’s overall response, Seoul officials said Thursday.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) briefed the National Assembly’s defense committee on an interim outcome of its inspection of the botched operation against five North Korean drones that violated the South’s airspace on Dec. 26.
Personnel of the Army’s First Corps first detected one of the drones intruding across the inter-Korean border, but they did not regard it as an “emergency” that would have activated key mechanisms to swiftly share and disseminate information among relevant military units.
Instead, they classified the situation as one that calls for “frequent” updates, the JCS said, a reason why inter-unit cooperation systems remained dormant at the time.
JCS officials cited a set of reasons for such an assessment, including difficulties identifying what was initially seen as a small flying object appearing on and off the radar in a confusing manner.
“There are over 2,000 radar trails a day and there are great limitations in determing that they are the enemy’s small unmanned aerial vehicles,” a military official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The JCS also found that the First Corps’ air defense reporting system was not connected to the Capital Defense Command, raising questions about the units’ capabilities to carry out missions together. The issue has since been addressed, the JCS said.
The officials raised the possibility that one of the drones, which flew close to the office of President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul’s central district of Yongsan, carried a commercial camera.
But they stressed there might have been “limits” in the drone’s ability to take photos of the Yongsan area given its flight altitude and the presumed performance of the camera.
The officials also said that the drones in question were thought to be more advanced compared with the North Korean drones found to have crashed in the South in 2014 and 2017.
As for the North’s intentions behind the drone incursions, the JCS said they might have been designed to test the South’s response capabilities and sow confusion among South Koreans.
Asked whether the military would hold anybody responsible for the failed operation against the drones, JCS Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum struck a cautious note.
“We plan to take a necessary step in accordance with the inspection outcome after a careful review,” he told lawmakers.