South Korea on Tuesday apologized to its citizens for failing to shoot down North Korean drones that crossed its borders for the first time in five years.
Lt. Gen. Kang Shin Chul, chief director of operation at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a televised address that the military deployed warplanes and attack helicopters but they were unable to take out the drones – including one that remained in South Korea for three hours.
Five drones were detected by South Korea’s military Monday, but not a single drone was shot down before they either returned to North Korean airspace or disappeared from Seoul's radar.
The mishap has drawn major concern over Seoul’s defense abilities as Pyongyang’s force posture has become increasingly aggressive.
Kang said South Korea’s military lacks the ability to detect and strike small surveillance drones that have wingspans of fewer than 9.8 feet, though he said its military could detect and hit larger combat drones.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday called for an increase in Seoul’s drone development and stronger air defenses.
"We have a plan to create a military drone unit tasked with monitoring key military facilities in North Korea. But we’ll advance the establishment of the drone unit as soon as possible because of yesterday’s incident," he said during a regular Cabinet Council meeting. "We’ll also introduce state-of-the art stealth drones and bolster our surveillance capability."
Amid a slew of missile tests this year – including two ballistic missile tests just days ago – North Korea has touted its drone development, with Seoul estimating Pyongyang has roughly 300 drones in its arsenal.
In response to North Korea’s record-breaking 90 cruise and ballistic missile tests this year – a staggering four times more than the missile tests conducted in 2021 – South Korea has ramped up its military drills with the US and regional allies such as the Philippines.
Seoul and Washington have called on China to do more to help them oppose North Korea’s unchecked weapons development, particularly as concerns mount that it could test a nuclear warhead next.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.