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S. Korea Releases RFP For UCAV

South Korea’s technologically ambitious defense ministry aims to test a scaled demonstrator for a stealthy combat drone by 2013, extending the country’s expertise in unmanned aircraft and hedging against cancellation of the KF-X fighter program.

With this project, South Korea will be within 10 years of Britain and Germany in flying substantial development hardware for unmanned combat aircraft. South Korea may be ahead of Japan, which has announced no such development effort.

Korea Aerospace Industries is well placed to win the project, since it has already embarked on company-funded work to acquire technology in this field, going as far as designing a full-scale aircraft it calls the K-UCAV and flying a 20% scale model of it (AW&ST Oct. 26, 2009, p. 42).

The aircraft that the ministry’s defense development agency is asking for will be larger than the model but still smaller than an operational aircraft. The South Korean air force is not known to be seeking a combat drone, and the agency says in its request for proposals that the program is not relevant to any military requirement.

Putting the technology-development cart before the operational-requirement horse is common in South Korea. Technologists in industry and government, especially in the defense development agency , often push for advanced programs in the hope that the military will eventually be pressed into paying for full-scale development and production .

In this latest project, the winning bidder will build two airframes under the project name UCAV Configuration Design Technology Research. The government will supply radar-absorbing material and two engines of an unspecified type.

The project’s objective is to “develop a scaled-down flying demonstrator and ground control equipment to validate core technologies required to develop a low-observable unmanned combat air vehicle,” the agency says.

It is also asking suppliers for one “radar-absorbing structure”—load-bearing airframe parts that can be used in exposed positions, such as wing leading edges and chines. Those parts will presumably be tested on the ground.

The 17-billion-won ($15-million) budget indicates that the aircraft will be larger than the K-UCAV model. Moreover, that money may be only the government’s contribution to the airframe work. In other countries, manufacturers have helped pay for such developments; in South Korea they are often forced to contribute.

Submissions are due by Mar. 23, a preferred supplier will be chosen in June and the aircraft must begin flight-testing by 2013. Testing should be completed in 2014, since the request for proposals says it should be wrapped up 48 months after the approval of the research and development plan, scheduled for August. Spending will peak in 2012.

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