The Republic of Korea is forming a combat unit deploying drones to attack North Korean targets. Providing more flexibility in responding to a crisis with North Korea, ROK drones will relay information real time before attacking regime targets.
According to a South Korean government official quoted by the Yonhap News Agency, the ROK Army unit will operate what the South Korean government calls “dronebots,” a combination of drone and robot. The official described the use of the dronebots as a “game changer” in warfare. Yonhap further writes, “The (unit) will operate reconnaissance dronebots against such core North Korean targets as nuclear and missile sites. In case of a contingency, swarms of dronebots will be mobilized to launch attacks.”
The use of combat drones will increase the South Korean military’s ability to respond to fast-moving crises. The ROK Air Force has Taurus cruise missiles mounted on American-made F-15K Slam Eagle fighters, but the missiles are programmed with their targets while they are still at the air base, leaving a gap between when the missiles are programmed and when they are launched. If the target moves or a second, more important target emerges nearby, the missile is wasted. South Korea also Hyunmoo-2A ballistic missiles and Hyunmoo-3 cruise missiles, but these also suffer from a timing gap.
Drones can be retargeted instantly based on breaking information. It’s not clear if there will be two different types of dronebots – a reconnaissance and an attack version – but theoretically the same drone could carry both a surveillance payload and a small explosive warhead. A smaller explosion delivered instantly is arguably better than a much larger one delivered two hours later, especially when North Korea’s ballistic missiles travel on 8×8 and 9×9 heavy trucks.
Also, South Korea will be resuming a once-abandoned program to develop Medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle to bolster its monitoring capabilities of North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. The medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV is designed to fly at an altitude of up to 10 kilometers and its radar can scan as far as 100 km. Korea hopes to complete development of the combat drones by 2018. The overall performance of the drones under development in Korea is believed to be similar to the MQ-9 Reaper shown to the left.