The US Army is permanently stationing an attack drone system and its support personnel in South Korea amid ongoing tensions with the North, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday.
Officials said the deployment, due by next year, was not unique to South Korea and was being conducted across the Army to provide infantry divisions with better intelligence.
But the announcement comes just one week after Pyongyang launched four ballistic missiles in its latest provocative test.
“The US Army, after coordination with the Republic of Korea Armed Forces and the US Air Force, has begun the process to permanently station a Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems company at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.
The sensor-rich MQ-1C Gray Eagle is capable of carrying Stinger and Hellfire missiles, as well as other armaments.
It typically takes a company of 128 soldiers to maintain the drones, and there are usually 12 Gray Eagles per company.
However, Commander Gary Ross said only two or three of the aircraft were planned for the upcoming Kunsan deployment.
The drone company will be assigned to the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division.
It “adds intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to that particular infantry division, as well as to our Korean allies,” Davis said.
North Korea fired at least four missiles toward Japan last week, three of which splashed down in waters near Japan, saying they were tests for a possible strike on US bases on Japan.
A US missile defense system, THAAD, is being deployed to South Korea in the face of threats from the North.
The United States has about 50,000 troops in Japan, and another 28,000 in South Korea.