Yongsan bans personal drones equipped with cameras
SEOUL, South Korea — The discovery of several camera-equipped North Korean drones south of the Demilitarized Zone last spring raised worries about spying. But at the U.S. military’s largest installation on the peninsula, the real security threat this holiday season may have been Santa Claus.
A new U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan policy, issued just days before Christmas, banned the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Remote Control Aircraft — aircraft without human pilots, guided by computers or remote control — on its installations.
Garrison spokeswoman Michelle Thomas said the new policy was not prompted by any specific incidents or security concerns but was meant to reinforce existing military regulations on UAV and RCA use by creating a garrison policy.
“The timing of it really had to do with people getting those as presents because it was just before Christmas… just making sure they knew what the regulations were, and that’s it,” she said.
A Dec. 19 policy letter, signed by garrison commander Col. Maria Eoff, banned the use of UAVs or RCAs equipped with cameras or data collection devices on Yongsan and other Area II installations “for public safety and OPSEC reasons.” The ban excluded UAV and RCA flights made for official military purposes.
The policy does allow RCA use in Area II with conditions. Operators must be at least 13, have their aircraft registered and inspected and go no higher than 100 feet high. RCAs can be used only at the Family Fun Park or sports fields at Yongsan’s Blackhawk Village, across from Burke Towers, or at the K-16 Air Base sports field adjacent to the running track.
Violators may be subject to Uniform Code of Military Justice punishment, administrative sanctions or civilian criminal prosecution, the policy letter said.
The letter said that while RCAs have been used recreationally by model aircraft enthusiasts, “they are increasingly being used for professional applications such as surveillance and data-gathering. Such aircraft are likely to be operated in a way that may pose a greater risk to the general public and operators may not be aware of the potential dangers… Further, the possibility of signal interference or interception might be associated with such aircraft.”
Thomas said the ban on UAVs and model aircraft was not prompted by security concerns following the discovery of several crashed North Korean drones in the South earlier this year, including one that was found to have taken pictures of the president’s residence in Seoul.
The rudimentary blue drones were similar in size and shape and were equipped with cameras and parachutes. Defense officials said they were not capable of carrying a significant load of weaponry or software to provide a live feed to a ground contact, indicating the North was in the early stages of developing UAV technology.
The drones’ ability to penetrate South Korean airspace without detection raised concerns about the country’s air defense, prompting Seoul to vow that it would respond forcefully to future drone incursions and increase its efforts to monitor and down UAVs.