This Sunday, the South Korean aircraft manufacturer, Korean Air Aerospace Division announced that it has signed a 400 billion won (US $ 333.5 million) deal with the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) at the end of December last year to mass produce new reconnaissance drones, Yonhap news agency reports.
The new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), designated KUS-FT, will be produced from 2016 to 2020 with first deliveries expected in 2018. “Nearly 95 percent of the aircraft’s components were made by South Korean suppliers,” a Korean Air Aerospace Division official said. The drone was developed between 2010 and November 2014 for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as target acquisition missions.The KUS-FT is South Korea’s first indigenously-produced UAV to receive an air worthiness type certification.
According to Korean Air, the new UAV is capable of operating for 24 hours. Its main payload is an electro-optical sensor permitting a 10 kilometer observation range and it is also equipped with an automatic target tracking capability. The new drone is 4.2 meters (14.7 feet) wide and 3.4 meters long.
“The tactical drone It is designed for short, automatic, short takeoff and landing with steep descent, characteristic of operations in mountainous areas, where it can deploy from a 30 meter runways, landing on wheels, skids, or parachute (emergency recovery),” according to Defense Update. Its landing gear can alternate between wheels and skids.
In a November 2015 statement, DAPA announced its intention to invest in developing UAVs in order to enhance the South Korean military’s surveillance capabilities along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), noting that the new UAV will be expected to engage in “high-risk search and reconnaissance missions safely and quickly [thereby] improving the operational performance of the mechanized units dramatically,” according to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.
The signed contract stipulates that each division within South Korea’s military will receive one new UAV system. One KUS-FT system “comprises four unmanned aerial vehicles, a launch catapult and recovery system, a ground control station, and a support station,” IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reports. An undisclosed number of KUS-FT UAVs are already in service within the Republic of Korea Army and Republic of Korea Marines.
“Having foreseen the potential of the UAV market from the late 1990s, we have concentrated our research capabilities [in the sector],” a Korean Air spokesman told local media. “We have solidified our position as the No. 1 developer of UAVs after building machines like medium-altitude aircraft and unmanned tilt-rotor aircraft, and are currently developing drones with low probabilities of interception, which will be necessary for the combat environments of the future.”
Korean Air has not disclosed the per unit price of the drone. Previous UAVs developed by Korean Air include the KUS-7 close-range UAV capable of operating within a 50 kilometer radius, and a next-generation tactical UAV, designated KUS-9, featuring a blended wing-body configuration.