DX Korea 2022: Korean Air reveals latest UCAV capabilities

Korea Air KUS-LW Loyal Wingman concept.
Korea Air KUS-LW Loyal Wingman concept.

Korean Air took the opportunity at the 2022 edition of the DX Korea land forces exhibition being held in Goyang from 21-25 September to showcase its growing range of unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) developments, which took centre stage at the company’s expansive pavilion at the KINTEX exhibition centre.

At the forefront of its UCAV display area are three KUS-LW (Korean Unmanned System-Loyal Wingman) concept models. Official specifications released for the first time indicate that the KUS-LW UCAV would be 10.6 m in length and 3 m in height, and feature a 8.4 m wingspan.

The company would not provide further details on the type’s desired performance characteristics, but noted that it would be powered by a turbofan engine and will be designed to undertake a range of missions such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), strike, electronic warfare (EW), and escort.

Korean Air was earlier selected by the state-run Agency for Defense Development (ADD) on 12 August as the preferred bidder to develop stealth unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for use by combat squadrons.

According to Korean Air, stealth UAV squadron is being developed for the first time in Korea as a part of the ADD’s “Future Challenge Defense Technology R&D Project” to develop new weapon systems. It had “received high scores for its technology in the first stage of the bidding process”.

Korean Air added that ADD began developing the UAV squadron in November 2021 and has completed the basic design. Detailed design will be carried out jointly by ADD and the company.

“Korean Air will develop a manned-unmanned teaming system in which one manned aircraft and three to four stealth UAVs can carry out missions simultaneously,” the company said.

“The squadron of UAVs will not only support and escort a manned aircraft, but will also be able to perform its own missions including surveillance, electronic interference tactics, and precise shooting,” it added, noting that work will centre on developing a manned-unmanned teaming system that enables a crewed aircraft to be linked to between three and four stealth UAVs during operational missions. However, the company asserted that the stealth UAVs will also be capable of performing missions on their own.

Korean Air also exhibited an updated version its KUS-FC tailless UCAV next-generation stealth UAV concept model, which adopts a truncated diamond-shaped ‘flying wing’ planform that is equipped with sweptback outer wings with control surfaces let into the trailing edges of the air vehicle’s fuselage, and trailing edges and upper surfaces of its wing sections. The model also features a dorsally mounted low-observability engine intake for its proposed turbofan engine as well as shielded exhaust and ventral payload bays.

According to fresh details offered by the company, the KUS-FC will measure 12 m in length and 3 m in height with a 20 m wingspan. Earlier concept designs featured a 16 m wingspan and an endurance of up to six hours.

Korean Air earlier said it will leverage on its decade of experience in developing low observable UAVs with the ADD for the latest programme. Between 2010 and August 2021, the company had developed a stealthy, tailless UAV demonstrator known as the Kaori-X under the auspices of the ADD. The prototype UAV achieved first flight in September 2015 and was used to validate key technologies and techniques.

The company also entered into an agreement with the Korea Research Institute for Defense Technology Planning and Advancement (KRIT) to develop low-observable technologies for next-generation UAVs. Its workshare is understood to centre on radar cross-section (RCS) reduction and expected to be performed through 2025. As part of this project, it has also partnered with six local research institutes and universities, including KETI (Korea Electronics Technology Institute) and Inha University.

by Jr Ng