SEOUL — South Korea has announced a series of contracts to develop and deploy indigenous unmanned and robotic systems in a bid to move to smaller but smarter armed forces fitted with high-tech technologies.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration, or DAPA, announced Dec. 9 it has signed a contract with LIG Nex1, a precision-guided missile maker in the country, to develop an underwater mine detector for naval operations. The contract is worth about $11 million.

Fitted with a supersonic camera and sonar, the underwater system is capable of self-driving for more than 20 hours to find mines and monitor the enemy’s possible infiltration. It can also collect topographic information for rescue operations, the agency said in a news release.

The underwater robot detector would be able to help reduce time and minimize casualties during naval operations to deal with mines and explosives, the agency added. Currently, the South Korean Navy uses sonar systems on manned vessels to find mines or explosives, which are removed by underwater disposal teams.

“The Navy’s mine-countermeasure capability is expected to be improved to a greater extent with this underwater robot that can move by itself,” said Won Ho-jun, head of DAPA’s unmanned systems acquisition department.

The DAPA also signed contracts with local defense contractors to introduce unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, through a fast-track acquisition process.

The agency announced Dec. 2 that it would buy three types of UAVs — a suicide drone, an attack drone armed with a rifle, and a small-sized drone for reconnaissance and offensive operations ― with an investment of some $2.5 billion.

Under the fast-track acquisition program, the military is supposed to buy defense equipment for pilot operations over up to six months before entering full-scale procurement contracts.

The suicide drone was built by drone maker “Datz Corporation,” according to the DAPA. The handy drone is an expendable one that can be used when soldiers sneak into enemy areas. As four such aircraft with foldable rotor arms can fit inside a single soldier-carried backpack, troops can launch them rapidly. This is often referred to as a “fire-and-forget” platform.

UMAC Air has developed a 5.56mm K2 rifle-carrying drone. The rifle is stabilized as the drone is designed to absorb recoil. Equipped with an electronic optics camera with high magnification zoom, the drone can identify and track targets in distance.

The multifunctional drone, called the Direct Collision Strike Drone, was developed by LIG Nex1. The drone is known to be capable of destroying targets with accuracy with the help of infrared cameras and a laser rangefinder. It is a hybrid UAV with both fixed wings and booms mounting four rotors that allow it to take off vertically.

“The fast-track acquisition project is aimed at applying the private sector’s fast-evolving new technologies to the military,” said DAPA Commissioner Wang Jung-hong. “It is expected to be an innovative model to improve the defense capabilities of the armed forces.”

Brian Kim was a South Korea correspondent for Defense News.

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