South Korea deployed fighter aircraft on Monday morning in response to North Korea sending several drones into its airspace without warning. Reports from Seoul indicated that one of its attack aircraft crashed to the ground.
The event marked the first time in several years that North Korea has sent drone aircraft into South Korean airspace. In addition, North Korea has been conducting numerous weapons systems tests recently, in defiant violation of multiple UN sanctions.
A media statement from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) indicated that the first North Korean unmanned aircraft was detected entering South Korean airspace at 10:25 a.m. local time. The South Korean military responded immediately by scrambling fighter jets and attack helicopters to intercept the drone.
In all, five North Korean drones were detected in South Korean airspace, with at least one coming near the capital zone around Seoul.
A JCS spokesperson told local reporters that the event was “a clear act of provocation in which North Korea invaded our airspace.” He added: “We conducted reconnaissance and operational activities, including photographing major enemy military facilities. Our military will continue to respond thoroughly and resolutely to such provocations by North Korea.”
The JCS report did not indicate whether the North Korean drones were shot down or retreated to North Korean airspace.
South Korea temporarily shut down commercial air traffic at its Gimpo and Incheon international airports. JCS requested that the two major hubs stand by for around an hour until the North Korean threat had been cleared.
South Korean professor of North Korean Studies Yang Moo-jin told reporters that Monday’s incident was the first time the military requested commercial flights be suspended because of a North Korean incursion into the South’s airspace.
He added the drones were almost certainly designed to spy on ground facilities rather than carry weapons. He said, “Considering North Korea’s poor level of drone development, there is little possibility that they carry the drone attack capabilities used in modern warfare,” he added.
It has been at least five years since North Korea sent drone aircraft into South Korean airspace.
The North fired two short-range ballistic missiles last week. The Pyongyang government issued a media release at that time that claimed it has now developed the capacity to take surveillance images from space and said it will launch a spy satellite into orbit by April 2023.