Foreign companies vie for South Korea’s early warning aircraft contract

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Several international vendors are planning to help South Korea to enhance airborne early warning and control capabilityas the country’s Air Force plans to spend a maximum of $2.26 billion on four aircraft.

After the Defense Acquisition Program Administration issued a request for proposals in November, companies had until Feb. 22 to submit their bids.

South Korea is taking on more self-defense responsibilities from the US and the new quartet of AEW&C aircraft will complement four Boeing E-737 aircraft to be delivered around the 2011-2012 timeframe. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said the new platforms would enhance the South’s “ability to track North Korea’s missiles and defend its airspace.”

Boeing is again competing with a 737-based platform, with its E-7 having the advantage of aerial refueling to provide on-station times that span 20 hours.

“In terms of capability, the E-7’s unmatched multi-role electronic detection and tracking radar provides the most powerful multi-domain surveillance, communications and networked battle management capabilities of any aircraft,” a Boeing spokesperson told Defense News.

The American company, which is the fifth largest defense contractor in the worldsaid the E-7 “is production ready and offers lower operating and maintenance costs, higher mission readiness rates and unmatched interoperability.”

Boeing executives at South Korea’s ADEX defense show in Seoul last year claimed a 96 percent availability rate for the E-7. They also highlighted commonalities with existing Korean E-737s. “In addition to crew training efficiencies, the E-7 offers lifecycle cost savings inherent with fleet continuity and a global, common logistics model.”

Saab’s GlobalEye is also competing, with the Swedish company proposing a Bombardier Global 6500 aircraft.

Saab believes its design, which places an Erieye extended-range radar on top of the fuselage, is ideal for the South Korean Air Force. In addition to a hot production line, Saab has asserted its willingness to transfer technology to bolster Korea’s strategic independence. He also highlighted the speedy delivery and affordable price.

Saab is the 33rd largest defense contractor worldwide.

The other contender is the American company L3Harris Technologies in conjunction with Korean Air and Israel Aerospace Industries. Phoenix’s solution also uses a Global 6500 and incorporates conformal radar and artificial intelligence algorithms from Elta Systems. L3Harris claimed its design would have low maintenance costs and at least 95% operational availability.

L3Harris is the ninth largest defense company in the world, while IAI lands at 29. The former noted that two initial aircraft will undergo modifications in Texas before receiving radar integration in Israel. Korean Air will lead operations on the two remaining aircraft in the country, as well as perform maintenance.

“Through L3Harris’ agreements with Korean Air, LIG ​​Nex1 and Ace Antenna and ongoing discussions with additional Korean partners, the group intends to fully support the aircraft and mission system equipment in Korea,” a group spokesperson said in a statement. Defense News. “This … paves the way for independent domestic research and development and fosters excellence in aircraft system integration, upgrades and modifications, which will greatly contribute to the advancement of South Korea’s research and development program.”

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration declined to provide Defense News with further details. The organization is now proceeding with evaluations.

Eye of Peace

The ROKAF currently has four E-737 Peace Eye aircraft in service, with Boeing offering newer E-7s to South Korea for the AEW-II program. (Gordon Arthur)


Having already acquired customers from Sweden and the United Arab Emirates, Saab believes its GlobalEye is an affordable solution and offers Seoul significant technology transfer. (Saab)


L3Harris as lead integrator partnered with Elta Systems and Korean Air to deliver the Phoenix based on the Bombardier Global 6500 business jet. (L3Harris)

Gordon Arthur is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. After 20 years working in Hong Kong, he now lives in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

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