The South Korean military fired warning shots at an unidentified aircraft believed to be a drone seen flying over the demilitarized zone separating them from the aggressive North Korean regime to their north.

Although the South Korean military was not able to identify the aircraft, more than 90 rounds were fired at it from an undisclosed weapon or weapons before the aircraft disappeared from radar screens and they lost visual contact with it.  This event occurred as tensions between North and South Korea are at near-historic highs in the face of repeated ballistic missile launches, nuclear weapons testing, and aggressive threats being levied by the North toward South Korea and its most powerful ally, the United States.  North Korea has conducted successful ballistic missile tests as recently as this past Sunday.

While South Korean officials were unable to confirm what exactly the aircraft was, there is historic precedent indicating that the aircraft was likely a drone.  Early last year, another unidentified aircraft believed to be a drone approached the border dividing the two nations from the North.  The South Korean military issued a number of warning broadcasts before ultimately choosing to fire warning shots from a machine gun at the craft, which promptly turned about and returned to North Korean airspace.

“It’s very likely these were trying to figure out troop disposition,” said retired Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer at the time. “The second thing they were trying to do was probably provocation.”

Although North Korea has a history of exaggerated claims regarding their military capabilities, experts suspect Kim Jong Un’s regime may possess as many as 1,300 fighter jets and an as-yet unknown number of drone aircraft ranging in capabilities from domestically produced and potentially weapons capable platforms to commercially available drones intended for civilian use.

Two drones that were suspected of being launched by the North Korean government were discovered after crashing in separate regions of South Korean in 2014.  One drone was discovered on Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, an area that is considered strategically important for the South’s military.  Earlier in the same year, another drone was found in the city of Paju, which sits only a few miles south of the demilitarized zone.  According to reports at the time, the drone found in Paju contained images of the “Blue House,” which is the South Korean equivalent of America’s White House, where its president resides.  Language written on the drones suggested they originated in North Korea, though the Kim regime never officially acknowledged the loss of their drones.

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Although the drones found in 2014 were classified as small and “elementary level” in their design, it seems likely that their capabilities would have improved since then.  North Korea does not possess the same satellite intelligence gathering capabilities employed by more technologically developed nations.  As a result, North Korea’s military has likely worked to improve the intelligence gathering capabilities allotted by their use of drone aircraft.

Even when these simplistic drones were discovered in 2014, concerns about North Korea weaponizing drones were prominent.  Since then, ISIS has successfully been able to do so in Iraq and Syria, using a combination of home-developed drone aircraft and commercially purchased ones to deliver explosives to the coalition forces engaged in fighting the terrorist organization in each nation, serving as flying IEDs of sorts.  North Korea almost certainly has the capability to match such a rudimentary style of attack, but it seems unlikely they would do so.  Instead of using drone aircraft to fly in small explosives, it would be more likely that these aircraft could be used to deliver chemical or biological agents that would both have a higher kill and casualty rate as well as having a significantly larger effect on the morale of South Korean troops.

Of course, any such an attack would be a part of a larger war effort, one that would likely include nuclear missile launches and a full-scale invasion of the South, which despite their rhetoric, is incredibly unlikely amid the current political grandstanding being made by North Korea and friendly nations like China and Russia.

Image courtesy of Reuters