Did the Spy Drones Really Come from North Korea?
Did the Spy Drones Really Come from North Korea?
  • By Kim Yu-na (yuna@koreaittimes.com)
  • 승인 2014.04.17 03:04
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The recent back-to-back discoveries of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have been causing a hullabaloo in South Korea.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in an interim report that the crashed-landed spy drones, found in Paju (a border city) and Baengnyeong Island, near the disputed Northern Limit Line, came from North Korea on the grounds that i) the two drones flew closer to the ground to take close-up photos of the Blue House and the area surrounding the Gyeongbok Palace, ii) North Korean inscriptions “기용날자” (commencement data in English) were found on the drones’ batteries and iii) the drones were equipped with cruciform parachutes, which are rarely used in the private sector.

Crashed-landed spy drones, found in Paju

North Korea is eager to make “everything clear.”

Following the S. Korean Defense Ministry’s announcement, North Korea flatly denied any connection to the three drones found crashed in South Korea in two separate statements made through its official agency, quite a departure from its previous nonchalant stance - the North had not come forward to either claim or deny reasonability for any provocations, including the sinking of South Korean naval corvette Cheonan in 2010. To top it off, North Korea has proposed launching a joint probe into the drone case and further into the 2010 Cheonan sinking, thereby adding a new dimension to the drone case.

North Korea’s National Defense Commission, the country’s top governing body, refuted the South’s accusation, claiming that i) North Korea does not use the expression “기용” (South Korea’s Defense Ministry said North Korean inscriptions, “기용날자,” were found in the drones), ii) the chirography of the inscriptions was a font available on Hangul Word Processor (HWP), a word processing application published by S. Korean company Hancom Inc. and used extensively in South Korea, and iii) there is no evidence that fingerprints found on the drones belong to North Koreans.

By the way, the problem is that North Korea this time goes beyond rebutting the S. Korean Defense Ministry’s accusations point by point. The North has proposed to set up a joint investigation team to get to the bottom of the drone case, as well as the Cheonan sinking. The S. Korean government had rejected North Korea’s proposal to launch a joint probe into the Cheonan sinking back in 2010. Thus, the S. Korea government’s possible rejection for a second time in a row, some worry, would end up looking like the S. Korean Government admitting that something fishy is going on around its handling of inter-Korean matters, consequently helping North Korea get the upper hand in inter-Korean relations.

Crashed-landed spy drones, found in Baengnyeong Island

Questions arise one after another.

As a matter of fact, before North Korea made rebuttals of the South’s accusations, many South Korean media outlets have already taken issue with the S. Korean Defense Ministry’s interim investigation results. In particular, lawmaker Jung Chung-rae of S. Korea’s main opposition The New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), also cast doubt on the evidence, saying that judging from the font of the inscriptions, the altitudes at which the drones, the S. Korean Defense Ministry said, took photos of the Blue House and fuel supply problems, it is highly unlikely that the spy drones were launched from somewhere in the North. Against this backdrop, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at frequently raised questions over the drone incident.

First of all, a question mark hangs over the GPS information of the drones. The South Korean Defense Ministry said that the drones were equipped with GPS systems. Flight information of aircraft can be easily obtained by analyzing their GPS information. And the job of analyzing GPS information stored in the navigation devices generally takes less than half a day. The spy drones were found crashed over two weeks ago. Nevertheless, there is no information whatsoever on whether the S. Korean Defense Ministry has yet to examine the GPS information or it just decided to keep the results of their analysis of the GPS information under wraps.

Second, the serial numbers on the drones used a combination of English alphabet letters and numbers, not a combination of Hangul (the Korean alphabet) letters and numbers, which is generally used in North Korea. What’s more, the drones were not marked with any Juche years – North Korea has the Juche Calendar, North Korea’s system of year numbering that dates from 1912, the year of Kim Il-sung’s birth. For instance, Juche 99 means year 2010. In fact, Juche years always appear in the serial numbers of North Korea’s currency, coins, publications and passports.

Third is controversy over the drones’ automatic photographing technology. According to S. Korean cable TV channel “TV Chosun,” the drones equipped with a Canon 550D started to take pictures every 8 seconds near Paju, every 4 seconds near the Blue House and every second right above the Blue House, bringing the total number of photos taken to 190. If the drones had carried a bomb, TV Chosun said, the Blue House would have been “defenselessly” bombed out.

Then, are such news reports true Can cameras be programmed to shoot photographs at specific time intervals Asked about this matter, Cannon said that the Cannon 550 D does not come with such a feature. If someone attempts to adapt a Canon 550D for automatic photographing, the camera should be at least equipped with both a transmitter and a receiver to enable remote controlling. However, neither transmitters nor receivers were on board the crash-landed drones recovered in South Korea.

Forth, why did North Korea go through all the trouble of sending spy drones to capture close-up photos of its targets As many media outlets already reported, there are several ways to acquire high-resolution, close-up photos taken from above the Blue House, other than launching spy drones. First of all, Google Earth offers very detailed images of the area surrounding the Blue House. If the Google Earth photos are still unsatisfactory, you can go to the websites of commercial satellite imagery providers, such as Quickbird (a high-resolution earth observation satellite owned by DigitalGlobe) and Touchglobe to get much more vivid and latest photos. Hence there is no need to go so far as to fly spy drones.

Jung Yeon-tae, Chairman of the Creative Economy Policy Forum

Fifth is controversy over the drones’ fuel capacity. According to news reports, the drone found crashed in Paju, equipped with a 2-stoke glow engine, weighed 15kg with its fuel tank fully filled. And the Paju drone was estimated to have carried 4.7 liters of fuel to make a roundtrip flight of 270 km. Questions arise here. Judging from the released photos of the toy-like Paju drone, it is not big enough to fly carrying 4.7 liters of fuel. Besides, if it is true that  the Paju drone flew for two hours, there should be lubricating oil stains on its fuselage. But the photos do not show them.

US Drone experts fly in to unearth the truth behind the drone case.

With the controversy over the drones showing no signs of abating, the S. Korean Defense Ministry has decided to seek help from the US. “US drone experts will join our small-sized UAV investigation team starting tomorrow,” a S. Korean military official said on April 14.

“Once US experts arrive in S. Korea on April 15, they will visit the S. Korean Defense Ministry to be briefed on the interim results of our investigation into the three drones. And we will discuss where our future investigation should be headed,” added the S. Korean military official. The US expert team has been known to be 8-9 strong, larger than previously anticipated. In addition, a scientific investigation task force, comprised of experts from the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and technicians from the private sector, has been set up within the UAV investigation team.

If the US experts and the scientific investigation task force reconfirmed that the drones belong to North Korea, the rumpus over the drone case would let up. However, anxiety over the South Korea’s porous security will probably balloon even further.

There must be a reason for the S. Korean government to tentatively conclude that the three drones were of North Korean origin. Still, it is impossible to know whether the S. Korean government simply tried to either prevent the nation wasting so much time and energy on the drone case or exploit the drone case for politicking. But, all the scientific investigation taskforce has to do is take strictly scientific approaches towards all the questions raised over the drones. And the S. Korean government should make public the results of such probes solely based on scientific analyses in order to allay public skepticism about its handling of the drone incident.



An Expert’s Perspective on the Threat of Spy Drones 

Evidence proving that the crashed-landed spy drones belong to North Korea

On April 13, Jung Yeon-tae, Chairman of the Creative Economy Policy Forum, appeared on MBN Sunday Current Affairs Mike (a television news program of Korean cable television channel MBN), to share with MBN viewers his take on the controversial drones found crashed in South Korea.

“Considering the spy drones’ possible flight range, they were sent from North Korea, not from China or Japan,” Chairman Jung said on MBN Sunday Current Affairs Mike. In response to the argument that the drones were flown by some UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) hobbyists, he said that almost 99% of the toy drones flown by hobbyists were remotely controlled and were not the type of aircraft that can either fly at an altitude of 1 km or travel dozens of miles.

“They’re very much closely built off a remote-controlled aircraft that you can buy in a toy store. They’re just a militarized version of that,” James Hardy, the Asia Pacific editor of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly magazine, said in an interview with CNN. Many foreign media outlets published news articles saying that poorly-designed drones are more like a ‘toy.’ However, Chairman Jung warned against simply judging by appearance.

“As regards the performance of the drones, they could not be remotely controlled and were actually low-tech, poorly-designed UAVs, simply equipped with surveillance cameras. However, given the purpose of small UAVs, the drone incident is not that simple. The drones were already programmed with GPS coordinates and flew automatically to their destinations on preset flight routes. To top it off, they crash-landed on their way back to some place after skillfully taking pictures of their targets,” Chairman Jung said.


The ultimate goal of North Korean drones could be bomb attack, not reconnaissance.

“First and foremost, the key role of spy drones is to deliver its payload to the destination without being detected. For instance, defending against weapons like missiles and multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) is possible since any suspicious movement can be picked up from the moment they are moved to a certain location. However, it takes UAVs approximately 10 minutes to fly 40 kilometers. In the wee hours of the morning, when people tend to lower their guard, drones can fly in with the aim of mounting an attack,” Jung mentioned.

“In fact, spy drones are thought to be built at the final stage of preparations for a military operation. If hundreds of drones carrying substantial payloads of biochemical weapons and explosives flew in on a bomb dropping or suicide mission, the South Korean government could be defenselessly bombed out. South Korea should approach the drone incident, bearing in mind this worst case scenario,” he added.


The drones could have been the final preparation stage of a military operation.

Chairman Jung raised his voice, saying “South Korea should batten down its hatches for a possible full-scale war with North Korea given that the spy drones spy drones are considered as asymmetric weapons - skillfully infiltrated S. Korean air space.” If hundreds of or thousands of drones, with explosives, dirty bombs and biochemical weapons on board, flew in under cover of darkness at two o'clock in the morning and mounted suicide attacks on the regiments and battalions under South Korea’s entire 60 army divisions and the nation’s other major facilities, including the Blue House, the South’s entire armed forces could be instantly crippled in complete pandemonium.

It’s not over yet. If the drone attacks were followed by nearly 3,000 highly trained North Korean hackers’ attack on South Korea’s communications networks, including Internet access and North Korea’s launch of a missile containing a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP), one of the most powerful asymmetric weapons, to Seoul at the same time, electricity and communications would be cut off leaving South Korea in complete darkness, unbeknownst to the rest of the world.

With all the aforementioned military operations carried out, if North Korea then mobilized all of its conventional weapons, multiple rocket launchers (MRL) and ordered tens of thousands of specially trained North Korean soldiers hiding in secret underground tunnels the discovery of secret underground tunnels dug by North Korea has been actually reported many times - to ambush Seoul, Seoul would fall into North Korea’s hands in a day. Such a war could be completed in seven days without giving South Korea’s allies, including the US, a chance to take any action.


The crash-landing of the spy drones was engineered to provoke inter-Korean conflict

With regard to the argument that analyses of the GPS coordinates log of the drones, believed to be the damning evidence, would confirm that the North sent the drones, Chairman Jung said, “If it is true that the drones were designed to trigger inter-Korean strife, the results of the analysis of the GPS coordinates log cannot be trusted.” He then took issue with South Korea’s passive national defense system, saying that it always takes defensive measures until a decisive “smoking gun turns up. It took South Korea over a month to conclude that North Korea was behind the Cheonan sinking in 2010 and the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the same year. In the event of war, there is no time to discriminate between enemies and friends and talk enemies out of waging a war.


South Korea should go for an “aggressive” national defense system.

Now, South Korea’s passive national defense system itself should be transformed into “aggressive” one. The prediction that North Korea could independently wage a war against South Korea without China’s help could come true because North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is only 31 years old. The South Korean government has to rigorously steel itself against a possible all-out war with North Korea and the public have to band together, refraining from dropping their guard. At the same time, pro-North Korea sympathizers living in South Korea should be hunted down and deported.

Jung Yeon-tae, Chairman of the Creative Economy Policy Forum, obtained a M.A. in metal engineering and previously served as Professor of New Media at Hanyang University's College of Information and Communications and as head of the New York branch of the Korean-American Scientists and Engineers Association (KSEA).


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