S. Korea wants purchase of more spy planes to beef up early warning system

By Lim Chang-won Posted : June 26, 2020, 16:24 Updated : June 26, 2020, 16:24

A file picture shows a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance plane in the air. [Reuters/Yonhap News Photo]

SEOUL -- South Korea will bolster intelligence capabilities by purchasing more spy planes or upgrading surveillance capabilities of those in service. South Korea's aerial early warning system is based mainly on E-737s, RQ-4 Global Hawks and RC-800s. To reduce its dependence on U.S. intelligence, South Korean troops want advanced surveillance equipment.

A high-level screening committee on the acquisition of military equipment earmarked some 1.59 trillion won ($1.32 billion) on Friday to purchase more E-737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft from 2021 to 2027, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), a state body controlled by the Defense Ministry.

Four E-737s are already in service in South Korea. The Boeing 737 AEW&C is a twin-engine airborne early warning and control aircraft and has a fixed, active electronically scanned array radar antenna.

The committee also approved an injection of 870 billion won from 2021 to 2026 to reinforce Baekdu aircraft's signal-collecting capabilities through domestic research and development. Initially, South Korea introduced spy planes such as RC-800s based on Raytheon's Hawker 800XP and reconnaissance aircraft based on Dassault's Falcon 2000s.

For enhanced surveillance operations, South Korea has deployed Baekdu aircraft capable of intercepting radio signals from electronic devices. Efforts to acquire independent technology and home-made reconnaissance aircraft been largely unsuccessful.

In January, South Korea set up a high-altitude reconnaissance squadron with RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to support ground troop actions by scanning and tracking the movement of enemy missiles and troops. The first of Northrop Grumman's four RQ-4Bs was delivered on December 13, 2019. Air force officials believe RQ-4s will enhance South Korea's operational capabilities as they will work together with advanced stealth jets.

In December 2018, South Korea's sole aircraft maker, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), won a military deal to develop spy satellites installed with a synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) that generates high-resolution remote sensing imagery.

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