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North Korea has 300 drones to spy on South, analyst says

South Korea’s policies had an influence on North Korea decisions to develop drones.
By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |   Jan. 20, 2016 at 11:39 AM
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SEOUL, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- North Korea has a fleet of 300 drones, and its reconnaissance capabilities have been under development since the 1990s, a U.S. analyst said.

Joseph S. Bermudez, a former analyst for the Defense Department, wrote Tuesday on 38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea issues, that Pyongyang has developed at least seven types of unmanned aerial vehicles, thanks to technology that originated from China, Russia and the Middle East.

North Korea's focus on drones began to gain steady traction more than two decades ago, but Pyongyang's interest in drones began as early as 1970, when U.S. drones from Osan Air Base in South Korea began to fly 268 missions along the coasts, Bermudez wrote.

South Korea's policies also had an influence on North Korea decisions to develop drones, according to the analyst.

In 1988, when Seoul's Defense Ministry announced that it was seeking financing to build a fleet of surveillance drones, North Korea acquired its first UAVs from China, Bermudez said.

North Korea's fleet of drones expanded in the '90s when Syria provided North Korea access to its fleet, including a Russian DR-3 Reys, a high-speed, low-altitude system with a range of 37-44 miles.

Drones are used on spying missions that infiltrate South Korea airspace. In March 2014, Bermudez wrote, a North Korean UAV crashed near the border city of Paju, but before it did, it had taken 200 photographs of key South Korean military installations, as well as of the presidential Blue House.

Pyongyang's drones caught the attention of South Korea's military in August, when North Korea flew several drones across the DMZ during North-South talks. North Korea also flew a drone across the DMZ last Wednesday, prompting South Korean soldiers to fire warning shots at the intruding aircraft.

South Korean newspaper Herald Business reported Seoul installed new radars in 2015 to detect drones in response to the latest North Korean incursions into the South's airspace.

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