July 16, 2010: South Korea has begun installing unmanned guard towers, equipped with sensors and machine-guns, along the DMZ (demilitarized zone). On the other side of the four kilometers wide DMZ is North Korea. Since the Korean war ended in 1953, the North Koreans have frequently sent commandos across the DMZ to do some damage, or just to show that they could do it. The last two incursions were four years ago. In both cases, South Korea troops fired on the northern soldiers, who then retreated. Last year, in a rare event, a South Korean criminal sought to escape arrest by crossing the DMZ into North Korea, where he sought asylum.
The new, unmanned guard towers on the DMZ are there to spare South Korean troops the tedium of manning such positions, and the risks that the North Korean might shoot at them for no reason. That happens fairly frequently. For these towers, the South Koreans are using ideas and concepts already developed and implemented in Israel.
Over the last four years, Israeli firms have developed and installed a network of remotely controlled weapons for guarding the Gaza security fence. This is not just a fence, but a network of sensors for detecting Palestinian terrorists attempting to cross, or set up bombs for use against Israeli patrols. The Israeli border with Gaza is 51 kilometers long, and most of it is in desert or semi-desert terrain. For a long time, most of the border was patrolled by troops in vehicles, while parts of it, near gates, were also guarded by manned watchtowers. But the Palestinian terrorists have been persistent in attacking the fence, and trying to get through it. None have ever succeeded, and survived. But the patrols were often attacked. One Israeli soldier was kidnapped four years ago, and some are killed or wounded each year.
The solution has been a system of unmanned towers and vehicles. The Sentry-Tech pillbox towers were developed six years ago. These are unmanned, armored towers, about 5 meters/16 feet tall and two meters/six feet in diameter. At the top of the tower is an armored shelter that conceals a remotely controlled machine-gun. This remote control technology is similar to that used for many armored vehicles. The tower also contains vidcams, and other sensors. The remotely controlled machine-gun also has a vidcam that can see at night and the ability to enlarge and enhance the image in the crosshairs. The operators are at a central location (and are mostly female soldiers). If intruders are detected, the operator opens the top of the tower and brings out the machine-gun. The 12.7mm machine-gun has a range of 2,000 meters. Some towers use a 7.62mm machine-gun, with a range of 800 meters. Allowing for some overlap, 16-17 of these towers can cover the entire Gaza border. The South Korea towers use a 5.56mm machine-gun, with a max range of 900 meters (if you just want bullets hitting close enough to the intruders to scare them into turning around.).
In addition to the towers along the Gaza border, Israel also experimented with remotely controlled armed vehicles. These were to be used to reinforce the towers or patrol areas where there are blind spots. Four years ago, the AvantGuard vehicle was introduced. This one used sensors and software that enabled it to patrol along planned routes, and was capable of some cross country operation as well. The AvantGuard mounted a remote controlled gun turret equipped with a 7.62mm machine-gun. The vehicle had digital cameras facing every direction, and used pattern recognition to identify potential threats (like people sneaking around where they are not supposed to be), or obstacles on the road. The idea was that a pair of human operators could control a dozen or more AvantGuard vehicles. This system was particularly effective at night, because it had night vision and moved quietly. Weighing only 1.3 tons, the AvantGuard was protected against rifle fire and fragments from shells and roadside bombs. AvantGuard was adequate for guarding industrial parks, but not the vast stretches of Negev desert, along the border with Gaza. However, the developers persisted in responding to suggestions and complaints from the military, and AvantGuard vehicles are again being tested along the border. The new, heavier, version rolls along on bomb resistant tracks, and is equipped to detect (with ground penetrating radar) and survive roadside bombs. South Korea also showed interest in these mobile security vehicles, and may again try using them on the DMZ.