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‘S. Korea, U.S. need radar, interceptor system for N.K. drones’

Seoul and Washington should jointly develop a radar and interceptor system for unmanned aircraft to cope with the growing number of North Korean drones encroaching on South Korean airspace and a globally intensifying robotics arms race, a U.S. defense expert said Monday.

Van Jackson, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, stressed the need for the allies to adapt to an “evolving global and regional context” in which military robotics has become a domain of strategic competition in Asia.

“At the global level, robotics technologies are spreading in the commercial and military sectors,” he wrote on the Korea Chair Platform, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based private think tank specializing in foreign and security policy.

“At the regional level, strategic hedging has become commonplace because trust in the Asia-Pacific is generally low and uncertainty about the future generally high.”

Defense against unmanned aerial vehicles ― better known as drones ― is only one dimension of the challenge, which has grown in urgency with recent discoveries here of several North Korean aircraft, Jackson said.

As of 2011, 76 countries possessed some kind of UAV technology, while at least 23 have invested in such military applications. Global spending on UAVs is forecast to top $8 billion by 2018, he noted.

“The U.S.-ROK alliance should develop, field and exercise ‘counter-drone’ capabilities and operational concepts,” Jackson said, referring to South Korea’s official name.

“The alliance will eventually need counters to medium- and high-altitude UAVs capable of performing at the level of Chinese-made UAVs, but the more urgent need is for radars capable of detecting small, low-speed, low-altitude systems.”

On Monday, the wreckage of a small drone was collected by a fisherman near a border island in the West Sea, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The sky-blue airplane looked similar to ones found in March and April near Baengnyeongdo Island; Paju, Gyeonggi Province; and Samcheok, Gangwon Province.

The discovery has triggered concerns over “porous” air defense, especially after some of the drones were found to have taken as many as 200 pictures while flying over Cheong Wa Dae and other parts of Seoul, though the Defense Ministry said they were not sent back to the communist state.

To defuse criticism and boost readiness, Seoul has vowed to devise a more advanced radar system capable of detecting objects flying at low altitudes, as well as a jamming system to disrupt drone operations and a scheme to intercept unmanned aircraft.

Jackson noted a letter of intent signed by South Korea and Israel in July on joint research on and development of UAVs, saying Seoul may also well forge a similar partnership with Washington.

“Both allies stand to benefit from technological advances made ― commercially and militarily ― and joint development should help ensure that emerging U.S. and ROK capabilities are interoperable,” he added.

“The convergence of the global ‘robotics revolution’ with regional-level lattices of latent rivalries and pervasive feelings of uncertainty about the future produce a space for strategic competition in Asia. The future of the U.S.-ROK alliance demands adaptation to these changing circumstances.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (