A tourist takes a photograph of a warning sign indicating a minefield lies beyond the rope in the Korean demilitarized zone, or DMZ. South Korea is developing drones to be used in search missions across the heavily fortified border area. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Explosive landmines in the Korean demilitarized zone are forcing South Korea to consider the deployment of drones for future surveillance missions.
Seoul's Defense Acquisition Program Administration said Wednesday it has agreed to develop unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, so the aircraft could be used in search missions across the DMZ, Yonhap reported.
The initial discussion and development of drones began in November 2010 and concluded in November 2014, South Korean outlet News 1 reported. Tests were conducted in conjunction with Korean Air, and the reconnaissance drones were deemed "fit for missions." The plan is to dispatch about 15 sets of drones between 2016 and 2018 for frontline use.
DAPA said the drones could secure a wider area for surveillance missions, and through the use of information gathered through the UAVs, the operational efficiency of frontline troops could be significantly improved.
In August, two South Korean soldiers on routine patrol in the DMZ were critically injured when landmines exploded and led to a series of events that escalated tensions at the border with North Korea. Seoul said the North planted the landmines, and Pyongyang later expressed "regret" for the incident, but never claimed responsibility.
Seoul is deploying the drones in the hopes of reducing injuries and casualties at the border. DAPA spokesman Kim Si-cheol said drones are to become increasingly key to search and surveillance operations, and high-performance drones are being developed using hybrid and surveillance technologies. Mass production of drones would begin in 2024, according to DAPA.
Landmines continue to be unearthed in South Korean towns near the border. Yonhap reported residents of a village in the city of Paju discovered five landmines in a field on Nov. 6, and a military official said the explosives were of U.S. origin and dated back to the 1950-53 Korean War.