The South Korean army plans to create a combat unit of weaponised drones next year that would be capable of swarming nuclear-armed North Korea in the event of a conflict.
The new defence asset has already been nicknamed the “dronebot”, according to South Korean newswire, Yonhap.
The army team operating the drones would primarily focus on reconnaissance operations against strategic North Korean military sites, amid growing tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programme.
But the unit could be mobilised to launch swarm attacks if necessary, with an army official claiming that drone combat would be a “game changer in warfare” on the Korean peninsula.
“The army plans to set up a special organisation to lead the development of dronebots, establish a standard platform and expand the dronebot programme,” he said.
The North’s detonation of a sixth nuclear test and the launch of two new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) this year has increased pressure on South Korean President Moon Jae-in to shore up his nation’s defences.
Earlier this year Mr Moon was forced to backtrack on his reluctance to allow the US-operated Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile shield, known as Thaad, to deploy on South Korean soil.
He also secured an agreement with the US to allow South Korea to increase the payload of its missiles.
On Wednesday, Seoul said it would increase its annual military budget by seven percent next year, in the biggest jump since 2009, reflecting the increasingly precarious security position on the peninsula.
The move to develop weaponised drones indicates the government is heeding calls from Western allies to improve its advanced surveillance systems.
The new combat unit will reportedly be modelled on Israeli technology, but several governments, including the US, Russia and China are developing “drone swarm” capabilities as a formidable new battlefield tactic of the future.
New developments in artificial intelligence mean that drones will increasingly be able to communicate and coordinate their movements as a group, to defeat conventional weaponry.
North Korea has also used drones against its neighbour in the past. Last year South Korean troops fired warning shots at a surveillance drone flying near the demilitarised zone on the border.
The military believes that the drone was launched by Pyongyang to try to identify South Korean troop positions. In June, North Korea also used a drone to spy on the deployment of the Thaad anti-missile system.
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