International

South Korea Seeks to Deploy Lasers Against Kim Jong Un’s Drones

(Bloomberg) -- South Korea is looking to develop and deploy laser weapons to bring down North Korea’s drones, as the military rivals on the peninsula ramp up their unmanned aerial vehicle programs.  

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said it signed a contract with Hanwha Aerospace Co. to produce the laser weapon under a plan to deploy the new system with front-line units by the end of the year. The deal is worth about 100 billion won ($73 million), Yonhap News agency reported Thursday.

“It’s a weapons system that could become a game changer in future battlefields, capable of countering even aircraft and ballistic missiles if we enhance the generated power,” the agency said in a statement.  

The US Army has used lasers to bring down drones, media including Forbes have reported, and other major militaries have been looking at developing energy weapons to do so as well. It still remains to be seen if the technology will be a cost effective way to down UAVs, which are playing prominent roles on battlefields from Ukraine to the Middle East.

DAPA said it will take about 10 to 20 seconds for the new weapon to take down a small drone. Compared with existing defense systems, the new laser weapon looks to be more cost-effective, it said. 

The laser system was developed by South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development in a $63 million project launched in 2019. A separate project is under way to upgrade its output and range. The defense ministry declined to confirm the exact range or power generated from the laser, citing operational reasons. 

South Korea received a wake-up call about threats from North Korean drones when Pyongyang sent five UAVs across the border in 2022, including one that flew near President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office in Seoul. South Korea’s military tried and failed to shoot the devices down. One complicating factor was a reluctance to fire munitions in heavily populated areas.

Shortly after the episode, South Korea unveiled a plan to spend about 560 billion won over the next five years on drones, including systems to bring down those from adversaries.

 

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