Korea – Korea’s two major players in the aerospace industry are pitted against each other for a government order to build unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) will accept bids for its UAV program later this month under which the winner will be provided 100 billion won over the next five years.
Korean Air (KAL), the nation’s flagship carrier, and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) are expected to stage a fierce competition to win the contract, which experts say would involve more than the immediate amount of money announced.
In other words, the 100 billion won contract is merely a starting point. Whoever wins is expected to see follow-up deals from the military, predicted to be much bigger.
The geographical features of Korea are also seen as one of the major reasons why the war drones are significant here as approximately 70 percent of the country is mountainous.
Both KAI and KAL have strengths to brag of as far as the drones are concerned.
The former came up with the country’s first UAV from its own technology in the early 2000s, called Songgolmae (peregrine falcon), which is currently used by the Army.
This has a range of 200 kilometers and sends real-time data on movements on lands. KAI has claimed that it catapulted Korea to become one of 10 nations to have their own drones.
“We are the only player in Korea with the experiences of developing and operating UAVs. We are ready to add more advanced features to Songgolmae to come up with far better models,” a KAI official said.
KAL also has artillery in the fight against KAI as the company developed a surveillance UAV, the KUS-7, in 2007 and upgraded it to the KUS-9 two years later.
The first model’s flying time was only three hours with a range of some 50 kilometers. But the next drone’s capability jumped substantially to an eight-hour flight capacity and real-time data transmission. The 150-kilogram vehicle can fly at a maximum speed of 210 kilometers an hour.
In addition, it beat KAI in 2008 in the bid for a medium-altitude long-endurance UAV project.
Another merit of securing the government deal is the business potential outside Asia’s fourth-largest economy as the world competes to embrace futuristic ideas across the board.
According to global consultancy Teal Group, the world’s UAV market has more than doubled during the first decade of the new millennium from $2.4 billion in 2000 to $5 billion in 2010.
The figure is estimated at $6 billion for this year and is projected to further rocket to top the $11 billion mark in 2020 with the vast majority of the demand coming from the military.
Some expect that around half of all fighter planes will be unmanned in around two decades, providing great growth potential for the aerospace industry that has complained of market saturation.