The eighth Seoul International Aerospace & Defence Exhibition (ADEX), held in the South Korean capital from 18-23 October, drew 313 exhibitors (of which 118 were domestic) and some 250,000 visitors. Both the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and the US Air Force (USAF) were well represented with the usual collection of fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters. However, one disappointment was the absence of the ROKAF’s first Boeing E-737 Peace Eye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) asset that entered service on 21 September 2011.

17th Jan 2012

South Korea


Gordon Arthur / Seoul

The eighth Seoul International Aerospace & Defence Exhibition (ADEX), held in the South Korean capital from 18-23 October, drew 313 exhibitors (of which 118 were domestic) and some 250,000 visitors. Both the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and the US Air Force (USAF) were well represented with the usual collection of fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters. However, one disappointment was the absence of the ROKAF’s first Boeing E-737 Peace Eye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) asset that entered service on 21 September 2011.

Aircraft and missiles
T-50B aircraft of the ROKAF Black Eagles aerobatics team performed, while a TA-50 from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) was on static display. The aerospace corporation, which jointly developed the aircraft with Lockheed Martin, was upbeat about the T-50 Golden Eagle advanced jet trainer (AJT), especially in light of export success to Indonesia. The TA-50 lead-in flight trainer (LIFT), which can also operate as a light-attack platform, mounts a 20mm cannon, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, AGM-65 Maverick missiles and up to 2.8 tons of bombs. The dedicated FA-50 attack aircraft performed its maiden flight on 4 May 2011, and a KAI spokesman said development was “nearly complete”. The FA-50 will feature an Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) EL/M-2032 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Two markets the T-50 is targeting are the USA and Israel. KAI already has close ties with Israeli industry via components like electronic warfare and radar systems.

Under F-X Phase III, the ROKAF wishes to fast-track the procurement of 60 twin-engine multi-role fighters. With the prospect of a US$ 8 billion contract, there were significant sales pitches from contenders like the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle, Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and Eurofighter Typhoon at the Seoul Air Show. Could the lack of promotion for the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA suggest the Russian fighter is not a strong contender? An F-X Phase III procurement decision is expected by October, with the first fighters entering service in 2016.

In terms of air defence missiles, South Korea has chosen not to put all its eggs in the US basket. Instead, the country has collaborated extensively with Russia, jointly developing the medium-range Cheolmae-II surface-to-air missile (SAM) with the Almaz Central Design Bureau. Also known as KM-SAM, the project team includes LIG Nex1, Samsung Thales and Doosan. The 40km-range missile is expected to begin replacing 24 Hawk XXI batteries from 2013. Seoul takes the North Korean missile threat seriously, and an improved Cheolmae known as 4-H is to take care of upper-tier defence. The 150km-range missile will likely incorporate Russian S-400 technology. Officials at the show were tight-lipped about these programmes, and LIG Nex1 representatives forbade photography of a number of items on its stand.

For ballistic-missile defence, Lockheed Martin was promoting its Theatre High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system and an upgrade of its six Patriot PAC-2 GEM/T batteries to PAC-3 standard. Israel, meanwhile, was promoting Iron Dome and IAI Elta exhibited an EL/M-2084 Multi-Mission Radar (MMR) that offers a 350km detection range against missiles and 100km for artillery shells. In 2009, South Korea ordered two EL/M-2080 Super Green Pine early-warning radar systems able to detect missiles launched up to 800km away. Further association with Israel industry occurred when South Korea purchased Spike NLOS missile systems from Rafael in September 2011. Fifty Spike systems are expected to deploy to offshore islands this year, able to target North Korean artillery pieces up to 25km away.

The new Surion medium-class helicopter performed a demonstration flight, plus KAI released further details about associated variants. Four Surions are undergoing a test-and-evaluation programme, and according to Dr. Choi Gun-Mook, Senior Manager of the KHP Programme Management Department, “fine-tuning to meet ROK Army requirements will continue into the first quarter of 2012”. Production should commence in June, with introduction to service in September. An initial contract allowed for 24 helicopters, but a follow-on contract will be signed this year.

A number of Surion variants will eventually appear, with more details provided at the Seoul Air Show. The first is a Police/Paramilitary version. The ROK government has already selected it as preferred bidder and two craft should reach the police in 2013. A second variant is the Anti-Submarine Warfare/Anti-Surface Warfare craft destined for the ROK Navy (ROKN). This type features a folding tail boom and it will carry sonar buoys, torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. Because the naval version will not be ready for some time, the ROKN will procure eight helicopters from another manufacturer in the interim. This gives either the AgustaWestland AW159 Lynx Wildcat or Sikorsky MH-60 a good prospect. However, KAI hopes it will successfully fulfil the remainder of the 44-craft naval helicopter requirement, with a decision due in June.

Two other variants are Amphibious and Medevac helicopters. The former will be used by the ROK Marine Corps (ROKMC) and development is slated to begin in 2013 for delivery in 2016. The medical evacuation craft is operating on a similar timescale, and the South Korean military is seeking about 40 craft.

Two years ago, Defence Review Asia reported on the Korean Attack Helicopter (KAH), which was to be based on the 8-tonne Surion. However, the ROK Army (ROKA) is now seeking a much lighter 10,000lb-class craft to replace its ageing AH-1S Cobra and 500MD TOW helicopters. The light attack helicopter will boast anti-tank missiles, rockets and a cannon. This operational requirement change has forced KAI to restart development work of what it is now calling the Light Armed Helicopter (LAH). KAI exhibited a scale model at the air show but it is still at a very early conceptual stage, according to Dr. Choi. Further development depends upon army specifications to be issued this year, but KAI is certain to partner with an overseas company for the project. Eurocopter is proposing its Panther and Tiger as solutions for the light and heavy attack roles respectively.

Unmanned aerial vehicles
South Korea can always be depended upon to show a variety of interesting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and the show did not disappoint. Two leading designers are KAI and Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD), with the two major projects being a new division-level craft and a next-generation corps-level asset. The Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) awarded KAL-ASD a US $30 million development contract on 7 September 2010 for a division-level UAV. Lim Jong-Mook – a lead researcher with KAL-ASD’s System Integration Team – conceded the innovative blended body wing KUS-9 had been abandoned and instead it has created the more conventional KUS-11. This 3.4m-long design possesses a maximum speed of 210km/h and range of more than 60km via the same 38hp UAV Engines Limited (UEL) electric motor that powered the KUS-9. In due course (currently estimated as 2015) the catapult-launched KUS-11 will replace the KAI Night Intruder 300 (RQ-101) that is presently used by the ROKA.

In regards to the corps-level UAV, KAL-ASD was promoting the 8m-long KUS-15 that is still at a non-flying developmental stage. However, the company will face competition from KAI, which is a developing a similar craft. KAI shared some of the limelight with a new design called the Devil Killer, a UAV assigned to perform suicide ‘swarm attacks’. The 25kg Devil Killer is launched from a bungee catapult that can be mounted on a light SUV-type vehicle. Kim Bongju, a research engineer with the company’s UAV Development Team, disclosed this 1.5m-long ‘remote-controlled bomb’ performed its first flight in August 2011. Its optimal range is 10-15km and it has a 400km/h top speed. KAI hopes it could one day be launched from the M270 MLRS.

For some time South Korea has been seeking four RQ-4B Global Hawks to improve its reconnaissance capacity. Northrop Grumman once again displayed a Global Hawk mock-up, and during the show it signed four memorandums of understanding (MoU) with local companies. Northrop Grumman was promising 30% offsets as part of any deal. The USA is already operating Global Hawks in the Asia-Pacific region (from Guam) and is preparing to deploy them to South Korea when the U-2R Dragon Lady is withdrawn this year. However, price escalations seem likely to circumvent its ROKAF introduction before wartime operational control (OPCON) is transferred in 2015. Israeli companies IAI and Elbit Systems were waiting in the wings, promoting their respective Heron TP and Hermes 900 medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) systems as alternatives.

Ground vehicles
Although it is an air show, this event also showcases ground combat vehicles. South Korean armoured-vehicle production is dominated by the “big three” of Hyundai Rotem, Doosan DST and Samsung Techwin, and all had vehicles exhibited. ROKA deployment of the Doosan DST K21 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) commenced in November 2009 with an initial order for 466 vehicles. However, the sinking of two vehicles during amphibious crossings, which led to the drowning of a soldier, forced a halt in K21 production. Kim Jong-Tae, General Manager of the manufacturer’s Overseas Marketing Team, declared the IFV’s buoyancy problems had been “fully resolved” by modifications such as a reduced trim vane height to achieve better weight distribution. Modifications were retrofitted to in-service vehicles and production restarted in September 2011.

Samsung Techwin’s most successful product is the K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer (SPH), and current contracts will take production beyond 1,000 vehicles by 2020. The company showed a K9 plus an accompanying K10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle (ARV). The ROKA possesses a large number of towed 105mm artillery pieces such as the M101A1. By mounting this weapon on a heavy-truck chassis, these howitzers could attain much greater mobility at reasonable cost. To fit the bill, Samsung Techwin exhibited its Evolved Wheeled Self-Propelled Howitzer (EVO-105), where the mounted 105mm gun receives an electric traverse/elevation mechanism, digital fire control and GPS-based navigation system.

The sophisticated Hyundai Rotem K2 main battle tank (MBT) did not appear this year because both prototypes are undergoing evaluations. Nevertheless, team leader Ahn Hyo-chul was able to discuss the programme’s progress. The K2 design was finalised two years ago, but the whole project has been set back by problems relating to the 1,500hp engine and automatic transmission. As part of the government’s indigenised production policy, Doosan DST was tasked with developing a suitable diesel engine while S&T Dynamics was to build the ST1500 transmission. Difficulties in integrating this domestic power pack were experienced, but Ahn commented that, come what may, K2 production will start this year ahead of induction into the army in 2013. If the local units are not ready in time, Rotem will revert to importing MTU-890 engines and RENK transmissions from Germany. The company hopes the K2 can achieve export success in South America, Middle East or South Asia.

Rotem has also developed an upgrade package for the army’s serving K1A1 MBT, and it is currently being tested. It includes a GPS-based battle management system (BMS), identification friend-foe (IFF), and driver’s thermal viewer and camera.

As part of major restructuring outlined in the last Defence White Paper, the ROKA will decrease in size from 520,000 soldiers to 387,200 by 2020. This will require the army to become more flexible and mobile. Indeed, it plans to eliminate 16 infantry divisions and create eleven brigades modelled on US Army Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. These new formations will be equipped with a wheeled armoured vehicle, and the trio of local companies is offering platforms. An official requirement for perhaps 1,000 vehicles has been awaited for several years, but the feeling was that the Ministry of National Defence could issue one before the end of the year. Hyundai Rotem is proffering its KW1 6x6 and KW2 8x8 designs, Doosan DST its Black Fox 6x6 and 8x8 family, and Samsung its 6x6/8x8 MPV. The Black Fox has already tasted success after winning a 22-vehicle order for the Indonesian Army in 2010.

Recent North Korean aggression reinvigorated South Korea’s “Defence Reform 2020” programme. The FY2011 defence budget soared 6.2% to US $31.4 billion, of which 30.9% will go on new hardware. As ADEX 2011 demonstrated, the ROK Armed Forces can expect a significant amount of new equipment to arrive in coming years.



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