South Korea on Monday accused its North Korean neighbor of flying several drones over the inter-Korean border, prompting it to deploy fighter jets to shoot them down.
The alleged incursion into South Korean airspace was the first in five years and comes after a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the military first "detected a North Korean unmanned aerial vehicle around Gimpo airspace at 10:25 a.m." (01:25 GMT ) and had “immediately retaliated”.
"It's a clear act of provocation in which North Korea invaded our airspace," a senior staff officer told reporters.
According to the South Korean military, the incursion drew warning fire from Seoul, which also deployed South Korean fighter jets and helicopter gunships to shoot down five drones, one of which had hit the airspace near Seoul.
One of the South Korean planes, a KA-1 fighter jet, then crashed in Hoengseong County, further east, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The army did not say whether the drones had been shot down or had crossed the border between the two Koreas, which is among the most highly secure areas in the world.
The South Korean military has also deployed its own manned and unmanned reconnaissance assets to areas near and north of the military demarcation line to take "adequate measures."
"We conducted reconnaissance and operational activities, including photographing key enemy military installations," the JCS official said.
"Our military will continue to respond thoroughly and resolutely to such provocations from North Korea," he added.
Flights have been temporarily suspended at the country's two international airports, Gimpo and Incheon, near the capital, for about an hour at the request of the military, Yonhap said, citing a South Korean transport ministry official. .
According to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, this is the first time that South Korean flights have been suspended due to "the appearance of North Korean drones".
“Given the low level of development of drones in North Korea, it is unlikely that they will have attack capabilities used in modern warfare,” said the researcher, believing that they were deployed to spy. .
“It is assumed that they came to our area for reconnaissance training,” he added.
It is the first time in five years that North Korean drones have flown over South Korean airspace.
The incursion comes amid heightened tension, as Pyongyang conducted an unprecedented series of weapons tests this year, including testing its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile to date.
Last week, Pyongyang also fired two short-range ballistic missiles and said it had developed new capabilities to take images from space using a spy satellite it plans to complete in April 2023.
North Korea's use of drones is a growing concern for Seoul, but Pyongyang denies any involvement and accuses its southern neighbor of fabricating evidence.
In 2017, the military in Seoul fired warning shots at a flying object that entered the country's airspace from North Korea.
A year earlier, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at a suspected North Korean drone that crossed the most sensitive area west of the border.
In September 2015, South Korea issued an anti-aircraft alert. She sent an attack helicopter and a fighter plane to track down a drone that had crossed the border, without success.
In 2014, a South Korean fisherman found the remains of a North Korean drone in his net near a disputed border island in the Yellow Sea.