Seoul: A suspected North Korean drone had photographed a US missile defense shield in South Korea before it crashed near the border where it was found last week, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
The finding came four days after North Korea tested new anti-ship missiles in a continuation of its weapons launches that have complicated new South Korean President Moon Jae-in's push to improve ties frayed over the North's nuclear ambitions.
The drone was found at a South Korean border town last Friday and South Korean investigators have since discovered hundreds of photos from its Sony-made in-built camera, a Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.
Ten of the photos were of US missile launchers and a radar system installed in the southeastern town of Seongju earlier this year, while the rest show mostly residential areas, farming fields and other less-sensitive areas in the South, the official said.
Under a deal with Moon's conservative predecessor, the United States deployed key components of the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system last spring to cope with what it calls North Korea's advancing nuclear threats. North Korea called the system a provocation that it says is aimed at bolstering US military hegemony in the region. China also opposes the deployment because it worries THAAD's powerful radar system can peer into its own territory.
The drone was believed to have crashed because it ran short of fuel while returning to the North. The official said more analysis was being done, including trying to determine if the drone had already transmitted those 10 photos on the THAAD site.
Drones are a relatively new addition to North Korea's arsenal. In 2014, several other suspected North Korean drones were found south of the border and experts said they were crude and low-tech but could be considered as a potential security threat.
South Korean officials said the drones found in 2014 likely conducted surveillance missions, saying they were also equipped with Japanese-made cameras that photographed South Korea's presidential Blue House and other areas. Those drones were unable to transmit photos in real time, Seoul's investigations concluded.