MELBOURNE, Australia — South Korea’s defense procurement agency has approved two major acquisition programs, paving the way for the country to develop a new electronic warfare aircraft and buy new heavy-lift helicopters.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced Thursday its approval of a $1.41 billion program to develop a new airborne electronic warfare platform. The project is expected to run from 2024 to 2032, and the new aircraft will seek to improve joint operational capabilities and the survivability of the country’s air assets by jamming and disrupting adversarial air defenses as well as command and communications systems.
This latest acquisition will form part of South Korea’s future electronic warfare response system, and it represents the government’s latest effort to acquire or develop a range of aircraft for special missions.
DAPA also greenlighted the $2.84 billion acquisition of “heavy helicopters” to replace older helicopters currently used by South Korea’s Army and Air Force for special operations as well as search and rescue missions.
The agency did not identify the platform selected for either requirement, although the use of the term “heavy helicopters” hints at the Boeing-made CH-47F Chinook. South Korea already operates an older version of the Chinook, with both the Army and Air Force flying the type.
The Army currently operates 26 CH-47D and six CH-47DLR heavy-lift helicopters, while the Air Force has 11 HH-47Ds for transport and combat search and rescue roles.
DAPA had approved a smaller acquisition of CH-47Fs in March, clearing $1.14 billion to buy helicopters for the Army. Neither announcement disclosed the number of helicopters it will acquire, although the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency cleared a South Korean request for 18 CH-47Fs in December 2022 that was estimated to be worth $1.5 billion.
Another South Korean effort to acquire or develop aircraft for special missions includes a previous contract award to Korea Aerospace Industries to convert four Dassault Falcon 2000LXS business jets into Baekdu surveillance platforms.
The new platforms will replace four older Hawker 800XP (RC-800SIG) intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft operated by the Air Force and acquired under the Peace Pioneer program in the late 1990s. The new jets are expected to enter service in 2026.
South Korea has an ongoing need for ISR capabilities, chiefly to monitor neighboring North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The South Korean Air Force already has the Boeing-made E-7A Peace Eye airborne early warning and control aircraft; the Northrop Grumman-made RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone; and the Peace Krypton reconnaissance aircraft.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.