Korea's first airborne early warning and control system aircraft, the so-called "flying command post," arrived at an air base in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, from Boeing in Seattle on Monday afternoon.
The E-737, nicknamed "Peace Eye," will drastically improve the military's surveillance capabilities over North Korea by flying near the demilitarized zone.
◆ 360-Degree Surveillance
The key piece of equipment of the AWACS plane is its multi-role electronically scanned array surveillance radar. MESA is an up-to-date electronic radar system that has antennas housed in a dorsal structure mounted on top of the fuselage. It is capable of transmitting beams in any direction and to any distance, in contrast to the disc-type radar mounted atop conventional AWACS aircraft that turns mechanically on its shaft once every 12 seconds.
The MESA radar can detect about 1,000 flying objects at the same time. When on 360 degree surveillance duties, it can detect enemy aircraft within a radius of 370 km; and when focusing its beam transmission in one direction, it can detect targets at ranges of up to 500 km. In other words, if flying near the DMZ, it is capable of detecting objects in most of the air space over North Korea. With different modes, the radar can even detect targets at sea, including enemy ships.
The MESA radar is capable of carrying out duties even in bad weather. As the aircraft flies at 30,000 ft (9 km) to 40,000 ft above ground, it can detect all of North Korea's low-altitude aircraft as they try to infiltrate South Korean air space along mountain ranges to avoid detection by ground radar.
Information obtained from the radar will be transmitted to the military command posts, as well as F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets and Aegis ships in real time. The E-737 also has missile approach warning systems at six locations on its fuselage, and eight devices that launch chaff and flares to avoid detection and mislead incoming enemy missiles.
◆ More on the Way
The plane will be operated on the basis of three eight-hour shifts. It can fly for up to 20 hours at a time with aerial refueling. The Air Force plans to purchase four E-737s for a total cost of W2 trillion (US$1=W1,050) by the end of 2012.
The plane will be deployed and warfare-ready in September after a final test flight by the Air Force.
The remaining three E-737s are being assembled at Korea Aerospace Industries in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province to help develop the domestic aviation industry.
"Until recently, we have depended on the U.S. military's AWACS aircraft for surveillance of North Korean skies, but we often feel hamstrung because they aren't deployed in Korea permanently," a military officer said.
"Once all four 'Peace Eyes' are deployed, we will be capable of watching the skies over the Korean Peninsula around the clock on our own."