As North Korea continues its saber-rattling exercises, with the latest coming via an ICBM test that confirmed the rogue nation could reach a bombing target anywhere in the continental U.S., the South has responded with similar displays of force largely consisting drills conducted in coordination with the United States military (see: In "Largest-Ever" Military Drill, US Orders 16,000 Troops, 230 Jets To Simulate War With North Korea).
Now, as the Financial Times points out this morning, South Korean preparations for a potential confrontation with their northern neighbor will include the creation of a weaponized drone unit that could be used to swarm North Korea in the event of a conflict.
Operated by the army, the unit will primarily engage in reconnaissance missions to survey developments at the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile sites, but could in future be used to launch swarm attacks, according to people familiar with the matter.
The establishment of the army unit follows calls from western officials and analysts for South Korea to improve its advanced surveillance technology.
“South Korea’s army plans to create a drone-bot combat unit in 2018 and set up a professional combat team to operate it,” an official at the Ministry of Defence confirmed.
“South Korea has reached a level of consensus on swarm technology, but adoption will take a while,” said a person familiar with the military developments. “The army is facing [political] pressure to reduce its forces, so it has to come up with new ideas.”
Of course, this plan comes amid growing concerns that the rapid advancement of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic weapons programs has effectively changed the balance of power in the region.
Earlier this week, William Perry, a US defense secretary in the Clinton administration, told a forum it would be “preferable” for South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear force — an option that the US has been historically reluctant to support and one which South Korean President Moon Jae-in has also rejected so far. That said, he is facing growing pressure from members of the conservative establishment, who view a balance of nuclear power between the two Koreas as the only way to maintain peace on the peninsula.
As the FT notes, the drone-bot army unit could be used to carry bombs or simply create a swarm of thousands of drones to effectively form a blockade of ships or aircraft...
Experts say such technology could have lethal and non-lethal capabilities. In the case of the latter, a swarm of thousands of cheaply made but connected drones could prevent area access by clustering around and blocking ships or aircraft.
“Some of us in the field proposed the Republic of Korea military should take advantage of this superiority against North Korea,” said Bong Young-shik, an expert on North Korean military developments at Yonsei University.
“Although it is unlikely, if the South Korean military wants, these drones can carry bombs as the nation is no longer bound by payload limits,” he added, referring to a decision by the Trump administration earlier this year to lift limits on South Korean munitions.
...a strategy which may or may not have been derived from a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy...