A North Korean drone discovered in South Korea's Gangwon Province in June 2017. (Yonhap)

The North Korean military plans to deploy a large number of drones with front-line units in the next seven months, Daily NK has learned, suggesting that the North’s development of military drones is progressing faster than expected.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in the North Korean military told Daily NK on Friday that the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on Mar. 23 ordered the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and the Ministry of National Defense to deploy more than 110 drones of various types, all equipped with advanced technology, to front-line units between April and the end of October.

According to the source, the drones, which will be deployed in several batches in the coming months, will be capable of functions such as high-resolution photography, real-time information transmission, long-range flight, carrying precision-guided bombs, and electronic signal jamming. Given this range of capabilities, the KPA intends to use the drones in various military operations.

North Korea’s goal in deploying these drones faster than expected may be to raise its threat level as high as possible by expanding the scope of military surveillance and diversifying its options for attacking South Korea.

“North Korea’s defense researchers have been working to develop drones capable of evading the enemy’s air defense network and conducting clandestine operations. The deployment of a large number of technologically advanced drones is expected to greatly enhance the North’s ability to conduct special operations and precision strikes,” the source said.

According to the source, North Korea’s researchers have focused on improving the drones’ precision strike technology in light of the possibility of a preemptive strike against South Korea.

Drones believed to have “great strategic value”

Importantly, the drones to be deployed are believed to have greatly improved electronic warfare capabilities. As a result, the KPA expects that the drones’ advanced jamming capabilities will enable them to play a key role in disrupting, paralyzing, and neutralizing the enemy’s (i.e., the South Korean military’s) radar assets and communications networks.

“The General Staff Department and the Ministry of Defense emphasize that the drones to be deployed this year under the orders of the WPK Central Military Commission are of great strategic value. They say the drones will not only enable the DPRK to gain information superiority in a confrontation with the enemy but also completely change the course of the war,” the source said.

The General Staff Department and the Ministry of Defense will develop specific concrete plans for the deployment of the drones by Apr. 5, and since the orders will come directly from the WPK, the drone deployment plan is likely to be given the green light and implemented at a rapid pace, the source said.

The General Staff Department also believes that once the frontline deployment is completed, the drones can also be used in North Korea’s annual winter drills, which begin on Dec. 1. The department intends to draw up detailed plans for the drones’ role in these exercises.

North Korean officials unveiled the “Saetbyol-4,” a high-altitude reconnaissance drone, and the “Saetbyol-9,” an attack drone, at the Weaponry Exhibition-2023, an event held on July 26, 2023. The drones also appeared at a military parade the next day on Victory Day, the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.

North Korean news media covering the military parade said at the time that “the newly developed strategic reconnaissance drone and the multi-purpose attack drone, which are being produced and deployed with our air force, made a test flight in the air over the parade ground.”

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

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