Intelligence: South Korea Comes Up Short


March 30, 2007: Five years ago, South Korea decided to upgrade its intelligence efforts in North Korea. South Korea already had some good HUMINT (contacts with North Koreans and people who visit North Korea), but wanted to get more visual and electronic information.

So far, over $400 million has been spent on what became known as the Geumgang and Baekdu projects. It's largely been wasted. The wrong equipment was bought, and the results have been disappointing. Originally, the South Koreans wanted to use a high flying UAV, but none were available to suit their needs. So it was decided to use a manned aircraft would be a good substitute. Four Hawker 800XP aircraft were bought, for service flying along the DMZ (Demilitarizd Zone) that separates north and south. But once all the sensors were installed, the aircraft could not fly high, or fast, enough. The cameras used, which were supposed to see 80 kilometers into North Korea, didn't, because the Hawker 800XPs were flying too low. The resolution of the cameras also turned out to be about a tenth of what was desired (able to identify objects about half a meter in diameter). The aircraft were not as reliable as expected. So instead of having one in the air 24/7, one was up about four hours a day. Other sensors placed along the border also have much lower performance than expected.

The scandal in South Korea is not just about the wasted money, and keeping it all secret for so long. No, the big deal is that now South Korea must continue relying on the Americans for good photographic and technical intel on North Korea.


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