South Korea on Monday accused its North Korean neighbor of flying several drones over the inter-Korean border, prompting it to deploy fighter jets to shoot them down.
The alleged incursion into South Korean airspace was the first in five years and follows a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military “first detected a North Korean unmanned aerial vehicle around Gimpo airspace at 10:25 am” (01:25 GMT) and “immediately responded.”
“It is a clear act of provocation in which North Korea invaded our airspace,” a senior staff officer told reporters.
According to the South Korean military, the incursion drew warning fire from Seoul, which also deployed South Korean fighter jets and helicopter gunships to shoot down five drones, one of which struck airspace near Seoul.
One of the South Korean planes, a KA-1 fighter, then crashed in Hoengseong Province, in the far east, Yonhap news agency reported.
The military did not say whether the drones were shot down or crossed the inter-Korean border, which is among the safest in the world.
The South Korean military also deployed its manned and unmanned reconnaissance assets in the areas near and north of the Military Demarcation Line to take “appropriate measures.”
“We conducted reconnaissance and operational activities, including photographing key enemy military installations,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff official said.
“Our military will continue to respond comprehensively and firmly to such provocations from North Korea,” he added.
Flights were temporarily suspended at the country’s two international airports, Gimpo and Incheon, near the capital, for about an hour at the request of the military, Yonhap said, citing a South Korean Transportation Ministry official.
According to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, this is the first time that South Korean flights have been suspended due to “the appearance of North Korean drones.”
“Given the low level of development of North Korean drones, it is unlikely that they would have offensive capabilities used in modern warfare,” the researcher said, believing that they were deployed for espionage.
He added, “It is assumed that they came to our region to receive reconnaissance training.”
This is the first time in five years that North Korean drones have flown over South Korean airspace.
The incursion comes amid rising tensions, as Pyongyang has conducted an unprecedented series of weapons tests this year, including testing its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile yet.
Last week, Pyongyang also launched two short-range ballistic missiles and said it had developed new capabilities for taking pictures from space using a spy satellite, which it plans to complete in April 2023.
North Korea’s use of drones is a growing concern for Seoul, but Pyongyang denies any involvement and accuses the South of fabricating evidence.
In 2017, the military in Seoul fired warning shots at a flying object that had entered the country’s airspace from North Korea.
A year ago, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at a North Korean drone that crossed the most sensitive area west of the border.
In September 2015, South Korea issued an anti-aircraft alert. It sent an attack helicopter and fighter jet to track down a drone that crossed the border, but to no avail.
In 2014, a South Korean fisherman found the remains of a North Korean drone in his net near a disputed border island in the Yellow Sea.