Artlce: Drones in Korea

Pilotless Machines Roam Korean Skies at Night

US Predator Drone


(A version of this article will also appear in Gwangju Magazine) 

Seoul – On July 26th around 10:00PM I’m hanging out with my in-laws northeast of Seoul, near Suraksan Mountain and my sister-in-law comes running in wide-eyed and says there’s something in the sky. We go running out and sure enough there are three smooth moving, flashing lights pacing over the north sky.

They seem to be moving in a surveillance type pattern parallel to the DMZ (demilitarized zone), maybe 30 miles in each direction before making sharp U-turns uncharacteristic of a conventional airplane or helicopter. We observed the repeated maneuvers for about an hour before going in.

It’s important to remember that UFO literally translates to “unidentified flying object” so it’s important not to jump to conclusions. And understand that the gap between public and classified military technology should not be underestimated. Consider that we are told the fastest manned aircraft is still the SR-71 Blackbird, a 48-year old plane. Most assume that stealth jets started in the 1960s, but Nazi Germany actually had the first, the Horton 229 that never saw mass production.

If the supposedly cutting-edge technologies are so old, then what do they really have? One example is the secretive Air Force X-37B Space Plane (another drone), on a classified mission was tracked worldwide from March 2011 to June 2012 by amateur astronomers, reported by NY Daily News.

So what did my family and I see on July 26th? They may have been the three RQ-4 Global Hawks sent to Guam in late 2010 for surveillance at the DMZ, according to Stars and Stripes Newspaper. The US controls them, but the US government has been aggressively pushing to sell Global Hawks to the ROK government, according to leaked US diplomatic cables, reported by the Asia Times.

The report concluded that ROK officials think Global Hawks, which can fly 20 kilometers high for 40 hours and see 550 kilometers into the distance, are too expensive at 940 billion won for a four drone deal, or 235 billion for each. The Hawks’ equipment includes radar, listening abilities, and long range and infrared cameras.

And North Korea is trying to use drones, from the US! According to Fox News, these may have allegedly been purchased from Syria. However it appears that they have not had much luck getting the drones to work properly, according to the report.

Drone Controversies

The most famous drones are likely US Predators, launching airstrikes in the Middle East. And they’re controversial, for example Pakistan’s Dawn Newspaper reports that their government claims about 140 civilians are killed for every one alleged terrorist. The documentary Drone Wars by DJ Sikorski & Douglas Stewart, points out that extrajudicial killing (without due-process via a judicial system) is illegal, especially in foreign territories because it violates the Geneva Convention.

The US Federal Aviation Administration estimates 30,000 drones for the US by 2020. They will use special LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) spy technology… “Which uses ultraviolet, visible, or near infrared light to track objects or people from the sky, has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan to track insurgents… with the 3-D laser mapping technology also being adapted…” reports Paul Watson for

With all that high-tech equipment, naturally privacy is a concern. An April 23rd,  2012 US Air Force document states if a drone “incidentally” captures intelligence on civilians while on another mission, that information can be stored for 90 days. And as if government snooping wasn’t enough, now citizens can buy small drones commercially, even in Korea often for under a million won.

And drones can be a safety hazard, for example recently in South Korea an S-100 Camcopter fell on a Korean police car, killing an Australian engineer and injuring two police, according to Wired Magazine adds that North Korean GPS jamming technology may have forced the drone to crash.

And finally there are the potential police state implications for drones. The American Civil Liberties Union argues that last year’s US NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) allows government to declare any citizen an enemy combatant without due process. Now consider since the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the NSA no longer obtains warrants to monitor Americans’ communications and GPS positions. So you’ve got all this surveillance and now 30,000 drones… could this be a recipe for a police state nightmare?

Alex Jones of Infowars August 7th radio show summarized his research on drones… “About 12 years ago I began to read public Pentagon documents where they said there won’t be any astronauts, there won’t be any submariners, there won’t be anybody on ships unless it’s in repair… there won’t be any men in aircrafts, or women for that matter… they have made the decision to get humans out of all the decision making processes.”

Sounds like science fiction?  Perhaps, but then even in sci-fi movies like the Terminator series’ Skynet, the computer program that fights the humans is likely named after the NATO 1969 network of military satellites also named Skynet.

In any case, drone technology is likely here to stay. The LA Times reports that police use drones, Wired Magazine says they will monitor national parks, and the BBC reports they will monitor agriculture. In all three cases, drone certainly can be used for the benefit (or menace) to society. Ultimately it’s up to us as watch dogs and pressure governments and corporations to use them responsibly within the confines of our constitutions.

by Michael Bielawski


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