KAI partners with Northrop Grumman for maritime VTOL UAV

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) announced in mid-January that it had signed an agreement with Northrop Grumman to develop vertical take-off and landing (VTOL)-capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for potential use aboard the naval and coastguard vessels.

The UAVs will be used to support missions such as maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and target acquisition, KAI stated at the signing ceremony at its headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province.

“We will develop solutions to meet the rapidly growing demand for unmanned aerial vehicles, including new concept vertical take-off and landing [UAVs],” said KAI Future Convergence Technology Institute, Kim Ji-hong.

Details of workshare were not disclosed at the time of the announcement, but Northrop Grumman will reportedly be providing technical assistance such as its tactical datalinks and networking, which is expected to reduce developmental risk and timeframes.

Northrop Grumman has developed the rotary-wing MQ-8 Fire Scout family of VTOL UAVs currently in service with the US Navy (USN). The family includes the MQ-8A/B derived from the Schweizer 330/333 light helicopters as well as the larger MQ-8C based on the Bell 407.

The MQ-8C features a length of 12.6 m and a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 2,722 kg, and can offer an endurance of up to 12 hours depending on its payload. The type currently operates from some of the USN’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and is expected to be integrated to the service’s other surface combat ships, including the future Constellation-class frigate.

Meanwhile, KAI has been developing its own rotary-wing VTOL UAV based on a 600 kg-class light helicopter called the Night Intruder 600 VT. The effort represents the company’s first attempt at developing a VTOL UAV and originally intended to address future Republic of Korea Army (RoKA) requirements.

Development of the Night Intruder 600 VT began in 2017 and it was exhibited for the first time in public at the DX Korea exhibition in November 2018. The prototype UAV successfully performed its maiden flight in September 2019.

The air vehicle is typically equipped with a chin-mounted stabilised electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) turret with high-definition daylight and thermal cameras. Other mission payloads being planned include a laser rangefinder or designator, as well as a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) system.

by Jr Ng