South Korea will invest W348 billion ($368 million) to create a minesweeping version of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KUH-1 Surion helicopter.

The work will run from 2022-2026, and aims to enhance the South Korean navy’s ability to keep sea lines of communications open, says the nation’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

Surion Minesweeper

Source: Defense Acquisition Program Administration

Surion minesweeper

The decision to work with KAI followed an evaluation of proposals in October, and two months of subsequent negotiations.

“With the development of minesweeping helicopters through this project, the navy will be able to conduct minesweeper options quickly and three-dimensionally,” says air force General Kim Jong-tae, the head of DAPA’s aircraft division.

“More than 99% of [South Korea’s] import and export cargo are transported by maritime trade. [The minesweeping helicopter] is expected to be a core weapons system that can protect ports and maritime traffic routes.”

An image provided by DAPA shows a Surion equipped with a large pod on its left side, which resembles the Northrop Grumman AN/AES-1 airborne laser mine detection system (ALMDS).

According to the US Navy (USN), the ALMDS “detects, classifies and localises near-surface, moored sea mines”, and is integrated with the Sikorsky MH-60S utility helicopter.

“The ALMDS is integrated with the MH-60S helicopter to provide rapid, wide-area reconnaissance and assessment of mine threats in littoral zones, confined straits, choke points and amphibious objective areas,” says the USN.

Other minesweeping helicopters include the Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon, operated by the USN, and the Leonardo Helicopters MHC-101, operated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Separately, KAI has announced an agreement with South Korea’s Defense Technology Promotion Research Institute to develop technology for small, modular unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that will perform the role of air-launched effects.

The project involves the creation of a small, folding wing UAV that can be launched from a pod and conduct reconnaissance, communication, and strike missions.

The UAV will have applications for the South Korean air force, army, and navy. KAI gave no financial details about the work.

The project will run until 2026, with KAI leading a consortium that includes South Korean firms LIG Nex1, Poongsan, Saeron S&I, and D-Brain.

KAI says the new system will resemble the AeroVironment Switchblade system.