A drone found earlier this month in South Korea was confirmed to have been sent by the North Korean military, possibly its intelligence agency, to spy on a US advanced missile defence system deployed in the South, Seoul's military said Wednesday.
According to its investigation, the drone was flown on May 2 from Kumgang County, a small village located about seven kilometers north of the two Koreas' border, and has travelled about 490 kilometers until it crashed on a mountain near Injae, Gangwon Province of South Korea, where the device was found on June 13.
Designed for a reconnaissance mission, the device may have been employed by either the North's corps-level units or Reconnaissance General Bureau, a North Korean intelligence agency that manages the state's clandestine operations, the defence ministry said.
"It is an act of military provocation that violates armistice agreement and non-aggression pact," said Army. Brig. Gen. Jeon Dong-jin, deputy director of operation at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement.
Equipped with an advanced engine made in Czech Republic, the drone travelled twice as far as a previous model found on Baengnyeongdo in 2014, according to the military.
The engine displacement was expanded to 50cc from 35cc, with the fuel tank capacity more than doubled at 7.47 liters, it added.
The military also revealed that the drone was outfitted with components coming from six countries including South Korea, Japan, the US, Switzerland and Canada. It used a Sony's A7R camera and a US-made GPS system.
Although the found drone was mainly designed for reconnaissance, the North could use smaller-size devices for biological attacks on the South Korean territory, the military asserted.
"If the drones spray toxic material from above, it would spread into air like fine dust… It would bring significant damage to the people in the South," a senior official at JCS said under the condition of anonymity.
Analysts, calling such a drone attack an "imminent threat," criticised the South Korean military for having done little about it, while acknowledging the challenges in detecting and intercepting small drones with current surveillance.
After a North Korean drone was found to have flown over the presidential palace of Cheong Wa Dae and taken pictures of it in 2014, the South Korean military decided to ramp up efforts to purchase and develop low-altitude radars targeting drones.
But the radars have yet to be fully deployed, particular at the border area.
"The military is in the process of developing a new system to detect and neutralize small-sized drones. We are doing our utmost to field extensive radar and other air-defence assets," said defence ministry's spokesman Moon Sang-kyun.