Korean will get into developing combat drones with a budget of W500 billion (US$1=W1,129). "We're developing next-generation combat drones and reconnaissance UAVs simultaneously for Army units," a military source said on Monday. "About W500 billion has been earmarked for the projects."
But under Korea-U.S. missile guideline, the military is restricted to a UAV payload size at the level of U.S. drones from the 1990s.
Korea operates three low-altitude surveillance drones. Among them, the RQ-101 "Songgolmae" (peregrine falcon) is the only one developed locally by Korea Aerospace Industries. It went into service in 2004.
Korea hopes to complete development of the combat drones by 2017 and deploy them warfare-ready by 2021.
"The U.S. and Israel are so far the only countries that have independently developed and deployed such drones," a defense industry insider said.
The new UAVs will have a 150 HP engine, three times the engine capacity of the low-altitude Songgolmae (50 HP), but a little more than the medium-altitude MQ-1 UAV (115 HP), which the U.S. completed in 1995. The overall performance of the drones under development in Korea is believed to be similar to the MQ-1.
Korea has the capacity to develop Reaper-class UAVs with a 900 HP engine of the kind the U.S. deployed warfare-ready in the 2000s, but due to restrictions under the missile guidelines, Korea can focus only on developing medium and low-altitude UAVs.
The missile guidelines, which were formulated in 1979 and revised partly in 2001, restrict the drone payload as well as missile warheads to under 500 kg. The MQ-1 has a payload capacity of some 340 kg and the Reaper of 1,700 kg.
The MQ-1 Predator will be able to fly at a maximum speed of 217 km/h and up to a distance of 1,200 km. It can rise up to about 7.6 km and fly 24 hours nonstop. Armed with laser-guided air-to-surface Hellfire missiles with a range of 10 km, it will be able to launch precision strikes against tanks or armored vehicles, as well as carry out reconnaissance missions.
Since 1995, the U.S. has used the Predator drone in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Yemen.