US deploying attack drones to South Korea

The United States has begun deploying attack drones to South Korea as tensions with North Korea remain high over Pyongyang's persistence in its missile and nuclear program.

U.S. Forces Korea said Monday that the company of Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) will be permanently stationed at Kunsan Air Base, about 150 miles south of Seoul.

"The stationing of this company, which will be assigned to the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, directly supports the U.S. Army's strategic plan to add one Gray Eagle company to each division in the Army," U.S. Forces Korea said in a press release.

"The UAS adds significant intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to U.S. Forces Korea and our [Republic of Korea] partners."

The timeline for the full deployment of the drone company is unclear.

The deployment comes as tensions on the peninsula remain fraught after North Korea's latest missile test.

Last week, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in what Pyongyang says was practice to hit U.S. military bases in Japan.

A day later, the U.S. military announced that it had begun deploying a missile defense system, a plan agreed upon by the U.S. and South Korea in July.

The Grey Eagle drones being deployed are capable of staying the sky for up to 24 hours and can carry up to four Hellfire missiles, according to an Army profile.

A company consists of nine drones and a number of ground-support equipment: five ground control stations, six ground data terminals, one mobile ground control station, three satellite ground data terminals, an automated takeoff and landing system more. The system will be maintained by a company of 128 soldiers, according to the profile. 

An unnamed South Korea military official told South Korea's Yonhap news agency the drones will enhance the alliance's ability to strike targets on the ground should war break out.

"In case of a war on the Korean Peninsula, the unmanned aircraft could infiltrate into the skies of North Korea and make a precision strike on the war command and other major military facilities," the official said. 

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