SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s military fired warning shots, scrambled fighter jets and flew surveillance assets across the heavily fortified border with North Korea on Monday, after North Korean drones violated its airspace for the first time in five years, officials said.
South Korea's military detected five drones from North Korea crossing the border, and one traveled as far as the northern part of the South Korean capital region, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The military responded by firing warning shots before launching fighter jets and attack helicopters to shoot down the North Korean drones. One of the aircraft, a KA-1 light attack plane, crashed during takeoff but its two pilots both ejected to safety, according to the Defense Ministry.
It wasn’t immediately known if the drones were shot down.
South Korea also sent surveillance assets near and across the border to photograph key military facilities in North Korea as corresponding measures against the North Korean drone flights, the Joint Chiefs said. It didn't elaborate, but some observers say that South Korea likely flew unmanned drones inside North Korean territory.
South Korea's public confirmation of any reconnaissance activities inside North Korea is highly unusual and likely reflect a resolve by the conservative government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol to get tough on North Korean provocations.
It’s the first time for North Korean drones to enter South Korean airspace since 2017, when a suspected North Korean drone was found crashed in South Korea. South Korean military officials said at the time that the drone photographed a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.
North Korea has previously touted its drone program, and South Korean officials said the North has about 300 drones. In 2014, several suspected North Korean drones were found south of the border. Experts said they were low-tech but could be considered a potential security threat.
Last Friday, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The launch was seen as a protest of the South Korean-U.S. joint air drills that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.
This year, North Korea has conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests in what some experts call an attempt to improve its weapons and pressure rivals to make concessions such as lifting sanctions in future negotiations. Recently, the North also claimed to have performed major tests needed to acquire its first spy satellite and a more mobile intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Hyung-jin Kim, The Associated Press