Korean Air inks big drone deal

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Korean Air inks big drone deal

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A computer-generated image shows the new drone that Korean Air is mass producing for the Korean military. [Korean air]

Korean Air signed a deal late last month with the state-run munitions procurement organization to mass produce a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, for military reconnaissance missions, the top air carrier said on Sunday.

The budget for the deal with the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, which will conclude in 2020, totals 400 billion won ($334 million), and Korean Air will receive 230 billion won through 2018 in its initial phase.

According to the deal, each division within Korea’s military will be supplied with one drone, but Korean Air has not disclosed the price per unit.

The private airliner developed the drone for military purposes between 2010 and November 2014, and launched pilot operations over the following year.

“Having foreseen the potential of the UAV market from the late 1990s, we have concentrated our research capabilities [in the sector],” a Korean Air spokesman said. “We have solidified our position as the No. 1 developer of UAVs after building machines like medium-altitude aircraft and unmanned tilt-rotor aircraft, and are currently developing drones with low probabilities of interception, which will be necessary for the combat environments of the future.”

Its contract with the government comes after the government announced in November that it would beef up the development of drones for the Army and Marine divisions near the North Korean border for search-and-rescue and reconnaissance missions, following a number of North Korean drones discovered near the far western and eastern sections of the border.

The new drone is 4.2 meters (14.7 feet) wide and 3.4 meters long and can make an automatic landing on unpaved fields at night or in fog. It is able to nosedive into mountainous areas and touch down within 30 meters of a targeted spot.

Its landing gear can alternate between wheels and skids, and it can release a parachute in an emergency situation to prevent damage and facilitate its retrieval.

The drone is also smaller than other models with similar functionality, which minimizes its operating expenses, and is able to detect and pursue an object more than 10 kilometers away.

Korean Air says 95 percent of the drone’s parts are made in Korea, and the company predicts that its success in domestic production of the military drone will propel export deals in Central Asia and South America.

The company said it is already in talks with several countries for potential contracts related to the new technology.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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