South Korea has confirmed recovery of a crashed North Korean unmanned aerial vehicle that was spying on the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THADD) missile system that is being deployed in South Korea.
The drone was discovered Friday after it purportedly ran out of fuel and crashed, according to an official with the South Korean military. The device was equipped with a SONY digital camera containing hundreds of photographs—some taken from a distance of 2-3 kilometers (1.2-1.8 miles).
Approximately 10 of the aerial photographs depicted the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system which is located more than 100 miles from the border with North Korea. The system is designed to intercept North Korea’s ballistic missiles.
Officials believe the unmanned aerial vehicle is from Pyongyang due to its resemblance to a North Korean drone that crashed on Baengnyeong Island in 2014, although the device discovered Friday was slightly larger and featured twin engines.
The deployment of THAAD has polarized most of the region, angering the North Koreans and causing the Chinese to worry that the system’s advanced radar could be used to spy on China.
The drone incident comes as tensions mount between the United States and North Korea, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis declaring Monday in a written statement to the House Armed Services Committee that North Korea’s advancing missile and nuclear programs were the “most urgent” threat to national security and that its means to deliver them had increased in pace and scope.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and North Korea have also been strained over their detention of four U.S. citizens, one of whom has just been released. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the State Department is still in discussions with North Korea regarding the Americans remaining in their custody.
Meanwhile, NBA Hall of Famer and former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Dennis Rodman will arrive in North Korea Tuesday. The purpose his visit is unclear, although he has developed a longtime friendship with leader Kim Jung Un. According to a senior official at the US State Department, Rodman is not visiting North Korea in an official capacity.
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