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Publication Title | Low-Cost Options for Airborne Delivery of Contraband into North Korea

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Low-Cost Options for Airborne Delivery of Contraband into North Korea
Richard Mason
SUMMARY ■ Foranumberofyears,variousactivistgroupsin South Korea have used hydrogen balloons to carry information and political, religious, and humanitarian materials across the border into North Korea. In the past, going back to the Korean War, the South Korean government itself used to launch propaganda balloons. For reasons of diplomacy, however, the South Korean government gave up sending balloons in 2005, leaving private individuals and nongov- ernmental organizations (NGOs) in South Korea to fly their own. The North Korean government strongly resents the balloons and in October 2014 opened fire on one of them with an anti-aircraft gun, causing South Korean forces to return fire when anti-aircraft bullets landed inside South Korea.
The NGOs’ balloon delivery techniques have evolved over time and are continuing to evolve—several NGOs have made an overt point of seeking new technological means to pursue their missions. In 2015, one organization announced that it would begin using hexacopter drones to smuggle material into North Korea. In this report, we review open source reporting to assess the technical state of low-cost private unmanned air vehicles—balloons and drones— as a means of delivering material into North Korea, focusing on the following:
• What is known about the technical characteristics of the Korean NGO balloons?
• What can be said about the probable effectiveness of the balloons?
• Could North Korea shoot down the balloons, if it made a concerted effort to do so?
• In an era of personal drones, what technical improvements are likely in the use of unmanned air vehicles by Korean NGOs?
Key findings
• Modeling suggests that when balloons are launched under favorable wind conditions, they can potentially penetrate deep into North Korea.
• Based on anecdotal reports, the balloons do not fly far across the border very often.
• It may be that the balloons are “saturating” the border area with leaflets but not fulfill- ing their full potential to reach larger areas of the country.
• Activist groups can probably improve their success rate by choosing launch conditions more judiciously, with the aid of high-alti- tude wind forecasts.
• Adding pressure relief valves to prevent overpressurization of the balloons seems like a cheap improvement that could enable better flight times and better penetration.
• The use of powered drones has begun with hexacopters and could be extended to longer-range drones.
• A balloon-released glider is a more exotic but not entirely undemonstrated concept that could combine some of the more attractive features of balloons and con- trolled drones.

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