South Korean airforce to create new surveillance unit

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korea's airforce on Friday (Oct 20) announced a plan to establish a new surveillance unit by the end of this year, which it said would boost the capability to detect any preparations in North Korea for nuclear and missile attacks.

The envisioned "Air Intelligence Wing," to be formed by Dec 1, will have a task organisation and mission largely based on those of the 37th tactical intelligence group located in US Osan air base, it said.

Employing Global Hawk high-altitude surveillance drones and South Korea's own medium-altitude drones, the new unit is envisioned to play a key role in Seoul's own preemptive strike scheme, such as "Kill-Chain" system, it added.

"The unit will maintain 24/7 intelligence watch and detect any indications and warnings," General Yoon Byeong Ho, chief of the airforce's policy office, told a parliamentary audit session. "It would focus on collecting and analysing intelligence for the airforce's aerospace operation."

Faced with North Korea's ever-growing nuclear and missile capabilities, South Korean airforce has been honing on its own preemptive strike system by developing its own reconnaissance and surveillance assets and acquiring some from the United States.

Among them are RQ-4 Global Hawks, which are to be delivered to South Korea next year. The drones will serve as a key plank of a sensor network designed to watch North Korea for an advance warning of missile launches and nuclear attacks.

Besides, the airforce has been assembling its own arsenal of surveillance drones, including medium-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (MUAVs). Scheduled to be deployed around 2020, the drones can monitor North Korea 10 kilometers above the ground.

"It would improve our capability to secure sufficient deterrence against North Korea's potential threat and help us play a crucial role in joint and combined theater," the airforce said its report submitted to the lawmakers.

Airforce Chief-of-Staff General Lee Wang Keun, meanwhile, said the military's decision not to scramble its fighter jets during US bombers' flyover last month near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) was to observe the de facto sea border with North Korea.

The US supersonic B-lb bombers flew across the NLL in the East Sea on Sept 23 as a show of force against North Korea's nuclear test and missile launch earlier last month. They flew further north than any US aircraft has flown off the North's coast this century.

"NLL is still the line that (the two Koreas) mutually observes.. I understand we didn't (join the drill) not to undermine the NLL," Lee told the lawmakers.

Lee added that he did not consult with the US over the flyover, although he was notified about it in advance. Some opposition lawmakers criticised Lee for failing to have a bilateral discussion and accused it as an example