A mid-to-high-altitude reconnaissance drone South Korea developed at a cost of W180 billion could be grounded unless Seoul is able to renegotiate crippling missile guidelines with the U.S. (US$1=W1,143). Diplomatic sources in Seoul on Wednesday said the U.S. insists that fuel be included in the limit on the payload of South Korean missiles or unmanned aerial vehicles.
The payload typically includes bombs, missiles, and electronic equipment, but not fuel. According to experts, a UAV carries almost 2,000 kg of fuel, so if that is included in the payload limit it could never take off while the limit remains at 500 kg.
South Korea has been developing electronic optical, infrared, imaging and data equipment UAVs in line with the 500 kg payload limit. The latest drone is set to go on its first test flight at the end of this year. It is capable of monitoring targets 100 km away from an altitude of 10 km, raising hopes that it would play a pivotal role in reconnaissance operations against North Korea.
At present, the South Korean military operates only a low-altitude UAV that conducts reconnaissance missions at an altitude of 3 km. "The U.S. does not include fuel in the payload weight for its own drones, so it does not make sense to apply that rule on us," a defense industry source said.