South Korea’s quest for a new airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft is intensifying, with four key competitors promoting solutions for the requirement.

FlightGlobal understands that Seoul is on the verge of issuing a request for proposals for four new AEW&C aircraft, and that business development teams from various manufacturers have been working to try and shape the requirement. The competition was a key feature of this week’s Seoul ADEX defence show.

Korea E-737 Peace Eye

Source: Republic of Korea Air Force

A South Korean E-7 ‘Peace Eye’

The Republic of Korea Air Force already operates four Boeing E-7 ‘Peace Eye’ aircraft, and plans for a new AEW&C platform emerged in the late 2010s. 

Boeing feels that its 737-derived E-7 is the optimum candidate for the mission. The E-7 sees the fuselage of the 737-700 airliner mated with the wings of the 737-800, with a radar array from Northrop Grumman mounted atop the fuselage. The E-7 programme has gained momentum in recent years with the US Air Force’s decision to buy the platform.

“The fact that the United States Air Force has chosen the E-7 platform and has been vocal about saying that it is the only aircraft available now to conduct war in the future, that says a lot to the international community,” says Bill Roach, Boeing’s Asia-Pacific E-7 business development manager. 

Roach adds that the E-7, powered by a pair of CFM International CFM56 engines, generates sufficient electrical power to ensure future upgrades, especially when compared with smaller AEW&C platforms derived from business jets. The power available aboard the E-7 also allows the radar to detect targets at greater ranges, providing more advantage to the combat assets that the E-7 supports.

L3Harris, for its part, is offering an aircraft named Phoenix AEW&C with a team comprised of Elta Systems, which will provide the mission system and radar, and Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD). Should the Bombardier Global 6500-based offering be successful, KAL-ASD will build the third and fourth aircraft locally, and provide local support for the fleet. Elta also has an agreement with a South Korean firm to produce transmit/receive modules for the radar locally.

Mark Kobussen, managing director SC&T Programs at L3Harris, says that the company’s extensive experience with modifying special missions aircraft will be brought to bear for the South Korean requirement.

Kobussen notes that since key elements of the offering will not fall under the US government’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism, South Korea’s use of the aircraft’s radar will have fewer restrictions. Moreover, the Global 6500 platform fits well for other South Korean acquisition plans, namely its ISTARS (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) requirement, and another requirement for a standoff jamming aircraft.

For some years Saab has promoted its GlobalEye AEW&C aircraft for South Korea’s future needs. The Global 6000-based type is already in service with the United Arab Emirates, and in 2022 Sweden committed to buying two examples.

In addition, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has put forward its Conformal Airborne Early Warning and Control System. The heart of IAI’s offering is the ELW-2085 radar array that is in service with Israel, Italy and Singapore.

Story updated with Bill Roach’s title.