Five North Korean drones crossed into South Korea, including one that flew near Seoul. South Korea responded by scrambling jets as well as attack helicopters and attempted to shoot down the drones.
Crossing into Seoul’s airspace on Monday, the UAVs measured about two meters across, according to South Korean defense official Lee Seung-o. He added that Seoul failed in its attempts to down the drones, with one craft returning to North Korean territory, while the fate of the other four remains unclear.
Seoul says it is unsure if the drones were armed or not. The airspace incursion caused South Korea to temporarily close its two largest airports, as well as to scramble several jets and helicopters, including one light-attack aircraft that crashed.
The South additionally responded with a surveillance flight over North Korea, said to be aimed at photographing military installations. Pyongyang has not commented on the drones.
The last time North Korea sent unmanned craft over the border was in 2017, at a time of soaring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, exemplified by a high-profile nuclear threat directly from President Donald Trump. However, in Trump’s second year as president, he engaged North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in several rounds of talks, allowing Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang to significantly roll back military activity on the Korean Peninsula.
Since Joe Biden became president, the White House has failed to propose talks with Kim on acceptable grounds, instead demanding that the DPRK simply abandon its nuclear arsenal. The stall in diplomacy has led to a rapid return to militarism, with North Korea carrying out a record number of missile tests in 2022 while claiming to have made important technological gains.
Meanwhile, Washington and Seoul have conducted several rounds of joint war games in recent months. In August, the two allies conducted live-fire drills for the first time in four years, while the US and South Korea completed their largest-ever aerial exercises on the Korean Peninsula back in October.
The Biden White House has additionally threatened to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, and in June the president signed a trilateral pact with Seoul and Tokyo set to further strengthen military ties between the three countries. Japan, for its part, is planning a massive military build-up that will soon see Tokyo become the world’s third-highest spender on weapons, largely setting its sights on alleged threats posed by both North Korea and China.