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S.Korean military admits flaws in anti-drone operations, information sharing

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Jan. 26, 2023 - 16:49

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Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup (R) speaks during a plenary session of the defense committee at the National Assembly in Seoul on Jan. 26, 2023. On the left is Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Yonhap) Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup (R) speaks during a plenary session of the defense committee at the National Assembly in Seoul on Jan. 26, 2023. On the left is Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Yonhap)
The South Korean military on Thursday has publicly conceded overall defects in its counter-unmanned aircraft operations and the absence of real-time information-sharing between the army and air forces on airborne objects. 

The forces initially failed to recognize the urgency of the situation and communicated via wire-tapped phone calls when North Korean unmanned aerial vehicles infiltrated South Korea, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in its report of a three-week inspection on its failure to bring down North Korean UAVs that crossed the border and flew over Seoul on Dec. 26 in 2022.

The JCS’s inspection group -- which consists of around 30 officials -- identified problems in sharing information systems between the army and air force as well as among corps on unidentified flying objects, according to the classified report submitted to the National Assembly’s defense committee.

No system had been established to connect the 1st Army Corps -- which first detected North Korean UAVs -- and the Capital Defense Command for real-time information sharing, military officials said, explaining that the issue has been fixed after the incident.

The 1st Army Corps also shared the situation on the cross-border infiltration of North Korean UAVs with the Air Force Operations Command through wire telephone.

The 1st Army Corps did not use either a “high-speed situation dissemination system” or “air defense dispatch communication system” that is designed to swiftly share information among forces, South Korean military officials confirmed during a closed-door briefing Thursday morning on condition of anonymity.

“But our initial assessment was that it was not an emergency situation that mandates us to use the systems,” one of the officials said, elucidating that it took time to identify flying objects as North Korean UAVs. Another official said the military has “admitted its inadequacies” in making the initial assessment.

South Korea’s Army has also manually notified the Air Force of suspicious unmanned flying objects detected by its local air defense radars, given that the Air Force’s Master Control and Reporting Center, or MCRC, is mainly responsible for detecting and tracking manned aircraft.

Therefore, the commander of the Air Force Operations Command -- who is in charge of raising air defense alerts -- made a much-delayed decision to issue the “Durumi” warning alert system required to conduct counter-unmanned aircraft operations in response to the intrusion of enemy UAVs.

The 1st Army Corps first detected the suspected North Korean UAV at 10:19 a.m. but the Durumi alert was issued at around noon.

The inspection group underscored that the Army and Air Force have encountered constraints in detecting North Korea’s miniature UAVs in a timely manner and bringing down UAVs with their operational weapons out of a desire to avoid collateral damage.

“The military needs to master procedures, including prompt information sharing, timely issuance of alerts and force employment that can ensure the effectiveness of its operations, in light of patterns of activities of enemy miniature unmanned aerial vehicles,” the JCS said in a separate report publicly-released Thursday.

The JCS underscored that “abiding focus of attention, budget, and long-term plans are needed to build up counter-unmanned aircraft capabilities,” but sufficient cost-effective analysis is essential before earmarking more budget.

South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said North Korea intended to “identify the South Korean military’s capabilities and stir up internal wrangling and confusion” during a session of the National Assembly’s defense committee on Thursday. But Lee said the military will reinforce its counter-unmanned aircraft capabilities on this occasion.

Lee also warned that the South Korean military will “put all possible options on the table” if North Korea conducts another cross-border offensive against South Korea.