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Seoul to more than double military drones by 2026 to counter NK threats

May 2, 2024 - 14:49 By Son Ji-hyoung
South Korea's military drones fly in formation during the Combined Joint Live-Fire Exercise between South Korea and the United States at the Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, just 25 kilometers south of the inter-Korean border, on May 25. (Ministry of National Defense)

The Yoon Suk Yeol government on Thursday unveiled its plans to more than double its military drone fleet by 2026 to enhance the military's readiness against threats from North Korea's unmanned aerial vehicles.

The meeting of the presidential Defense Innovation Committee, chaired by National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin, focused on strategies to bolster drone capabilities directly tied to the military's readiness posture, according to President Yoon Suk Yeol's office.

"Our military aims to dramatically enhance its readiness posture against threats posed by North Korea's unmanned aerial vehicles by securing more than double the current level of drones by 2026," Yoon's office said in a statement issued following the meeting.

To that end, the government's strategies involved diversifying acquisition methods by expediting the procurement of domestically produced commercial drones and accelerating the deployment of drones currently in the research and development stage for active use in battle.

Another key component was to increase budget allocations to rapidly acquire a significant number of drones.

Yoon's office, however, did not disclose the type of drones Seoul was looking to acquire, or how much government budget would be spent to execute the plan.

The announcement came after South Korean military forces established the Drone Operations Command in Pocheon, a town in Gyeonggi Province near the border of the two Koreas, in September. The fledgling military unit was established in response to North Korea's military provocation in December 2022, during which North Korea sent drones to South Korea, let them fly in South Korean airspace near Seoul. The drones then returned to North Korea.

At the meeting, the 10-member committee also discussed ways to boost combat effectiveness.

According to the government, state funding for weapon modernization programs will amount to 5 percent of the total state budget to improve the South's defense capabilities, up from the current level of 1 percent. The plan is meant to enhance South Korean forces' combat readiness. Yoon's office did not disclose the details about its timeframe.

The budget for improving defense capabilities came to about 30 percent of the 2024 defense budget in South Korea, which amounted to 59.4 trillion won ($43.1 billion).

Moreover, the Defense Ministry also unveiled its plan to improve the living conditions for South Korean Army, Navy and Air Force soldiers stationed along the border and address a constant decline in South Korea's noncommissioned officers enlistment rate.

The Defense Innovation Committee has held four meetings since its commencement in May 2023. Before Thursday's meeting, all three meetings were presided over by Yoon.

Among the committee's members are Chang, director of the presidential National Security Office; Defense Minister Shin Won-sik; and eight civilians including former Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin. Shin did not attend Thursday's meeting.