BLOODY NOSE? The U.S. is to deploy new attack drones in South Korea that could be used to kill North Korean leaders and launch pinpoint strikes on its missile launch pads.

The Gray Eagle is an improved version of the MQ-1 Predator, the leading U.S. medium-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle, and has both strike and reconnaissance capabilities.

With a 17 m wingspan, it is 8 m long and can fly at a maximum speed of 280 km/h for up to 30 hours. It is capable of non-stop surveillance missions and intelligence gathering in an area of a 400 km radius from an altitude of 7.6 km, which means it can target most parts of North Korea.

It could hit a vehicle carrying North Korean leaders, a missile launch site, or mobile missile launchers with four Hellfire anti-tank missiles or four Viper Strike small guided precision bombs. Each GPS-guided Viper Strike bomb weighs 20 kg and is accurate to within 1 meter so it can destroy even a fast-moving vehicle.

Last year, Beijing objected to the deployment plan, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying all sides concerned should “step on the brakes” if they want peace and stability in the region.

Deploying a drone armed with just a few, small conventional weapons doesn’t seem like a big escalation in response to a nuclear threat.