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South Korea to spend $440M until 2027 to counter NK drones

A view of a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor” test to develop a new strategic weapon, at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Tongchang-ri, North Korea, Dec. 15, 2022, in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). — KCNA VIA REUTERS

SEOUL — South Korea plans to spend 560 billion won ($441.26 million) over the next five years to beef up its ability to fend off North Korean (NK) drones, Seoul’s defense ministry said on Wednesday.

The plan was included in South Korea’s midterm defense blueprint for 2023-27 after North Korean drones crossed into the South in the first such intrusion since 2017.

The ministry earmarked the funds for four projects aimed at bolstering counter-drone capabilities, including an airborne laser to destroy drones and a jammer to neutralize smaller devices.

The blueprint also included a plan to add another drone unit in the army, which operates two squadrons.

“The laser weapon program is in a testing phase and expected to begin deployment in 2027,” a ministry official said. “The ‘soft-kill’ type jamming system would improve our response capability against small drones.”

Monday’s incident triggered criticism over South Korea’s air defenses as it tries to curb the North’s evolving nuclear and missile threats.

President Yoon Suk-yeol chastised the military’s handling of the incursion, urging it to hasten the reinforcement of the drone units.

The military apologized for its response, and said it could not shoot down the drones because they were too small.

As part of efforts to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the ministry seeks to procure more stealth jets, which it said would bolster real-time strike capabilities against moving targets.

The ministry will also secure additional ballistic missile submarines and accelerate the development of systems to intercept artillery rockets.

“We will strengthen our overwhelming massive punishment and retaliation capability to be able to destroy key facilities anywhere in North Korea in case of its nuclear attack or use of weapons of mass destruction,” the ministry said in a statement.

In total, the ministry aims to spend 331.4 trillion won ($261 billion) on defense over the next five years, with an average annual increase of 6.8%. This year’s budget stood at 54.6 trillion won.

Defense expenditures are subject to parliamentary approval. — Reuters

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