South Korea plans to acquire a variety of unmanned air vehicles across all spectrums in the coming years, with local and international companies vying for what industry observers say is one of the most lucrative markets in Asia.

State-owned Korea Aerospace Industries is keen to get ahead of the competition, and displayed a concept for a new unmanned combat air vehicle and an upgraded medium-altitude UAV at the Seoul air show in late October.

Studies into the K-UCAV began in 2008 and are at an "advanced conceptual design" stage, says a KAI official. Discussions with the South Korean defence ministry are "at an early stage and ongoing", the source adds.

The company has not yet sought official funding, a move that would push the programme into the next stage of development. It now aims to develop a UCAV that can perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with "high performance and manoeuvrability", and be capable of embarking on advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

 © Siva Govindasamy/Flightglobal

"It will have a low observable design, including internal weapon carriage. It will have an electro-optical/infrared targeting system and fly-by-wire digital control systems," adds KAI.

The 8.4m (27.5ft)-long K-UCAV will have a 9.1m wingspan, a maximum speed of Mach 0.85, a service ceiling of 39,400ft and a 5h endurance. Range is cited as 290km (156nm), with maximum take-off weight being 4,050kg (8,390lb).

KAI also displayed a model of the Night Intruder NI-100N, an upgraded and larger variant of its NI-100. Technical demonstrations to the South Korean army are under way, and more improvements are being made on the tactical UAV that will be used for ISR missions. A production contract could be signed in 2010, says a KAI official.

The 2.5m-long NI-100N has a service ceiling of 6,600ft, a maximum speed of 113kt (210km/h), a mission radius of 60km, endurance of 6h, and 100kg MTOW. There are also plans for a 4.8m-long Night Intruder 300. KAI says this will have a 6.4m wingspan, 300kg MTOW, 100kt top speed, 14,800ft service ceiling, 6h endurance and 120km range.

The UAV will have a ground control station equipped with datalinks, a light launcher that would allow the army to deploy it in all missions, and a parachute/airbag recovery system.

Foreign companies, especially those from Israel, were also keen to promote their UAVs, especially in the ISR field. Elbit Systems promoted its Hermes 90, Hermes 450, Hermes 900 and Skylark II designs, while Israel Aerospace Industries displayed the medium-altitude, long-endurance Heron and Harop loitering munition.

"In Israel, we have a lot of experience in ISR. When the Koreans buy our products, it is not just the UAVs but that experience and how we can use that," says an Elbit official. "We know that South Korea is keen to promote its industry. We are open and flexible to integrating other systems, even indigenous ones. It depends on the customer."

Northrop Grumman was also talking to South Korean officials about its RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-8 Fire Scout systems, while EADS promoted its Talarion design. Boeing and Saab showed their respective ScanEagle and Skeldar systems.

Source: Flight International