08 Juli 2010

Korea Emerges as Arms Development Powerhouse

08 Juli 2010

Haeseong antiship missile (photo : korea times)

This is the third in a series of articles to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The Korea Times exclusively interviewed Park Chang-kyu, president of the Agency for Defense Development. -- ED.

Cutting its teeth on component manufacturing and licensed production of U.S. weapons over the past decades, South Korea has emerged as a global arms developer, the head of the nation’s weapons development agency, said.

“Now, we have enough technology to build almost all weapons systems independently or in partnership with foreign countries. The thing is a matter of ideas, not the lack of technology," Park Chang-kyu, president of the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), said in an interview at the ADD headquarters in Daejeon, June 11.

The ADD is responsible for the research, development, testing and evaluation of weapons, defense equipment and related technology. The agency marks their 40th anniversary of its founding in August. Park, 59, took office in May 2008.

“In the past, we focused on locally developing existing foreign weapons systems ranging from rifles to missiles. But that paradigm has changed dramatically in recent years based on practical and creative technologies of our own,” Park said. “For example, we exported the technology of the K2 main battle tank to Turkey even before the tank was mass-produced and began full service. That proved our defense industry could be a new growth engine for the national economy.

K2 Black Panther main battke tank (photo : korea times)

”In 2008, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) signed a $400 million contract with Turkey over the transfer of technology on the K1A1 and K2 Black Panther tanks, both co-developed by the ADD and Hyundai Rotem, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor. Under the deal, South Korea is to help Turkey develop a main battle tank by 2015 by providing more than 60 percent of the technology required.

The amphibious tank is one of the ADD-built masterpieces, including the K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer co-developed by Samsung Techwin and the KT-1 Woongbi basic trainer jointly built by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).

Other ADD-developed products include the long-range “Hongsangeo” (Red Shark) ship-to-submarine rocket torpedo co-developed by LIG Nex1; the K11 airburst rifle co-built by S&T Daewoo; the K21 infantry fighting vehicle jointly developed by Doosan DST; the “Shingung” (Chiron) shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile co-developed by LIG Nex1; and the Korean Military Satellite Communications System (K-MILSATCOM).

K-11 airburst riffle (photo : korea times)

Of them, the K11 multipurpose rifle has drawn key attention worldwide. Last month, the United Arab Emirates ordered 40 K11 rifles, making it the first foreign customer for the weapon, the first of its kind being operational in the field. The deal is valued at $560,000.

The assault rifle can fire both standard 5.56mm NATO-compatible ammunition and a 20mm high-explosive airburst round, selected by a single trigger.
Under a self-detonation system, the 20mm round from the rifle can trace its target and explode three to four meters above it, and it is also capable of penetrating walls.

Hongsaeo rocket torpedo anti submarine (image : korea times)

“The idea for the Hongsangeo torpedo, for instance, is just outstanding,” Park said. “In the past, researchers would only focus on their own areas, but now the shift of innovation patterns toward technology fusion is a trend underlying all the categories of a techno-paradigm shift.”

“In that context, the Hongsangeo successfully integrates the technology of missile and rocket, which enable the weapon to go beyond the limits of speed and range that exiting torpedoes have,” he added.

The new torpedo can travel more than 20 kilometers in the air before dropping into waters by parachute to track and destroy targets. The rocket is fired from an ADD-built ship-based vertical launch system.

“The current achievements of weapons development are the fruits of our decades-long efforts to develop key technology, and now our defense technology is regarded to be at the level of the world’s top 10,” the ADD president noted. “A sharp increase in defense exports in recent years is proving the trend.

”The government set a goal of reaching $1.5 billion in overseas arms sales this year, up 28 percent from last year’s $1.17 billion. Last year marked a 13-percent increase from 2008’s $1.03 billion.

LIG Nex1 Chiron surface to air missile (photo : LIG)

Key export items included depot level maintenance for submarines, sales of submarine combat systems, wheeled armored vehicles, military communications systems, and spare parts for the KT-1 trainer jets.

Besides the K11 deal with the UAE, negotiations are being actively held on the exports of the K2 to Jordan, those of the K1A1 to Thailand and Indonesia, as well as the sale of the Harbor Underwater Surveillance System (HUSS) to Vietnam, Park said.

Joint development programs During the interview, Park stressed the importance of active international cooperation in arms development, production and testing, which he said would help upgrade the nation’s weapons technology and create new markets abroad.

LOGIR and APKWS guided rocket (image : aerospaceweb)

He referred to the joint development of the Low-Cost Guided Imaging Rocket (LOGIR) by South Korea and the United States as a case in point.

The 60-billion-won project, approved and signed by both sides in 2007, aims to equip the 2.75 inch (70mm) unguided air-to-air or air-to-ground rocket with a precision-guidance system, infrared-ray-image sensor, driving gear and wings.

The weapon is scheduled to begin service by 2014, and the U.S. Navy is expected to buy about 30,000 LOGIRs, according to Park.

A per-unit price of the precision-guided rocket is about $15,000, of which South Korea receives $10,000 and the U.S. $5,000, so that the export of the LOGIR systems after 2014 would reap at least $300 million, he said.

In 2008, South Korea and the United States also agreed to jointly develop a new airborne early warning aircraft to be used in locating heavy mortar and artillery, and assist in counter-attack missions, as part of their joint arms research programs.

The new aircraft, called the Airborne Warning Surveillance System (AWSS), will be designed as an unmanned aerial vehicle that carries a sensor suite “completely different from any other that exists,” according to sources.

KFX Korean next generation fighter (image : sunyerang)

The planned development of a KF-X fighter jet would also be a successful international cooperation program, said the ADD head.

The KF-X program aims to develop an indigenous fighter aircraft on par with the F-16 Block 50 fitted with a locally- developed Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.

A preliminary development for the KF-X will be conducted between 2011 and 2012 with an investment of 4.4 billion won, and full-scale work will continue until 2021 at an estimated cost of 5 trillion won.

South Korea will foot 60 percent of KF-X development costs and rely on foreign firms to cover the remainder, according to the DAPA.

The ADD has developed radar-evading stealth technology of its own for the past decade and will apply it to the KF-X development to a certain level.

“In order to reduce the risk of development, costs, as well as secure broader export markets and aircraft technology, we aim to develop the KF-X fighter in partnership with foreign manufacturers,” Park said.

Future systems

Based on accrued technologies from past and existing weapons development programs, the ADD is looking to develop high-tech defense systems to be operated in “digitalized battlefields,” Park said.

“Developing unseen weapons, rifles without gunpowder, systems not needed to be operated by soldiers... Simply, that’s the contemporary warfare we’re facing and looking to create in future network-centric battlefields,” he went onto say.

Among the key future programs are combat robots, unmanned warships and submarines, unmanned combat aircrafts and a “killer” satellite system, he said.

The agency is also working toward developing “robobugs,” such as a dragonfly-type micro unmanned aerial vehicle and a spider-type surveillance robot, as well as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) bomb and laser weapons.

Park dismissed worries that future-oriented weapons programs could be hampered by a refocus of arms improvement plans to North Korea’s conventional, asymmetrical threats following the sinking of the Navy warship Cheonan in March.

He said, “It’s true that the North Korean threat has been actualized following the Cheonan incident. But we should not and cannot deter the threat only with conventional weapons.”

“To secure a stronger deterrent against the North’s asymmetrical capability of missiles, long-range artillery and submarines, we should think and act differently and more creatively,” the researcher said.

Developing new technology and weapons would eventually be a fundamental solution to coping with the North’s asymmetrical and irregular warfare tactics, he said.

“The Cheonan incident is a wakeup call to our defense plans. But we don’t have always to defend against existing threats with conventional countermeasures,” Park said. “Infrastructure of state-of-the-art science technology is a must for all spectrums of war, including asymmetrical and irregular warfare.”

Who is Park Chang-kyu?

Park Chang-kyu, president of the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), is a nuclear expert.

A graduate of the Nuclear Engineering Department at Seoul National University, Park, 59, obtained a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1982. He subsequently received a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan in 1986.

Park served as president of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute between 2005 and 2007.

He has worked as president of the Korea Risk Governance Society since 2007.

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