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(LEAD) N. Korea in process of developing long-endurance aerial drone: gov't

All Headlines 14:04 December 18, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout)

SEOUL, Dec. 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is in the process of developing a long-endurance aerial drone with greater capabilities, the government said Sunday.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is undergoing flight testing is larger than those currently in service in the North, an official source said. Last week the North's Chosun Central TV revealed that a new type of UAV is under development.

The media outlet did not provide clear images of the actual drone but claimed it had real-time observation and tracking capabilities. It also said the machine can be used to check the atmosphere, detect forest fires and observe fishing grounds.

"The North is building larger drones with greater range and with the capability to be flown remotely by flight controllers," an official from Seoul's defense ministry said. He declined to go into detail but said Seoul has detected numerous test flights by such aerial vehicles since early this year.

South Korea estimates that the North has some 300 observation drones and around 10 machines capable of conducting attacks with weapons. Past reports have shown that Pyongyang is even building a multipurpose UAV.

The North even showed off an attack drone in July 2013 on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War, a clear sign of the importance it places on this weapons system.

Local military experts also said that based on the information provided, the North may be upgrading drones it initially brought in from China and the Soviet Union in the past by making them bigger, heavier and more useful in terms of range and capabilities.

"The North clearly seems to be interested in building its own UAV to replace the old imported machines and copies of these drones that have crashed in South Korean territory in the past," a Korea Defense and Security Forum source said.

Several suspected North Korean UAVs have been found in places like Paju, Baengnyeong Island and Samcheok in the past, although Pyongyang has denied ownership of such machines.

To counter such threats, South Korea is in the process of using concentrated electromagnetic pulse devices to disable and bring the drones down.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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