MELBOURNE, Australia – South Korea is set to acquire more airborne surveillance and intelligence gathering aircraft, as the U.S. ally seeks to bolster its capabilities in both areas.
The country’s Defense Project Promotion Committee approved last Friday plans to acquire an undisclosed number of airborne early warning and control, or AEW&C aircraft, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration or DAPA.
The committee also approved plans to acquire more signals intelligence or SIGINT gathering aircraft. Approximately $1.3 billion has been earmarked for the acquisition of the AEW&C aircraft for entry into service by 2027 while a further $725 million has been set aside for the SIGINT platforms, which are expected to enter service in 2026.
The announcement did not disclose the platforms being pursued for either program, but South Korea is almost certain to go with additional Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft. The Republic of Korea Air Force or ROKAF is already operating four such aircraft, acquired from the United States under the Peace Eye program, since 2012.
The Peace Eye 737s are derivatives of Boeing’s 737 Next Generation airliners fitted with a distinctive dorsal radar housing containing a Northrop Grumman Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array or MESA radar. The L-band radar is reportedly capable of simultaneous air and sea search, fighter control and area search, simultaneously tracking 180 targets and conducting 24 intercepts.
The DAPA announcement said the acquisition of additional AEW&C aircraft will be to further minimize gaps in South Korea’s air defence coverage. South Korea has in recent months publicised the intercept of Chinese and Russian military aircraft entering the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone or KADIZ.
The new SIGINT aircraft will be used to replace four older platforms based on the Hawker 800 business jets. DAPA says the new aircraft will be equipped with indigenous systems and will serve alongside two Dassault Falcon 2000 SIGINT aircraft delivered to the ROKAF in 2017.
The older Hawker 800 platforms were acquired in 1996 under the Paekdu project and were modified by E-Systems Incorporated for its SIGINT role. The aircraft were delivered in the early 2000s along with four other Hawker 800XPs modified for imagery reconnaissance with synthetic aperture radars and moving target indicators.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.