An airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system detects aircraft, ships, vehicles, missiles, and other incoming projectiles at long ranges and performs command and control of the battlespace in an air engagement, directing fighters to target locations and counterattacks on enemy forces. Four Boeing 737 AEW&C planes equipped with fixed, active electronically scanned array radar antennas are in service in South Korea.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), a state body controlled by the Defense Ministry, would purchase four more AEW&C planes by 2027. L3Harris has proposed a Global 6500 model with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)'s radar. Global 6500 is a long-range jet produced by Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace, featuring a spacious cabin, a flight range of more than 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles), and powerful Rolls-Royce engines.
Under a comprehensive business cooperation agreement with L3Harris, Korean Air said it would participate in remodeling, parts production for additional aircraft, and personnel training if Global 6500 is adopted.
South Korea's aerial early warning system is based mainly on foreign equipment such as Boeing 737 AEW&C, RQ-4 Global Hawks, and RC-800s. A high-altitude reconnaissance squadron with RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles has been set up to support ground troop actions by scanning and tracking the movement of enemy missiles and troops. RQ-4s can work together with advanced stealth jets.
For the mid-altitude Baekdu program, South Korea has deployed RC-800s based on Raytheon's Hawker 800XP to intercept radio signals from electronic devices as well as Falcon 2000's modified aircraft.
Efforts to acquire independent technology and homemade reconnaissance aircraft have been largely unsuccessful because U.S. and other foreign companies were reluctant to transfer key technologies. Tired of the incessant payment of huge repair costs to maintain Boeing 737 AEW&C planes, DAPA now talks about the necessity of acquiring independent technologies for the development of a homemade AEW&C system.
Through the performance improvement of Baekdu planes, South Korean companies think they can enhance the level of technologies for designing an independent AEW&C system as they did in developing the KF-21 fighter jet that made its maiden flight in July 2022. Still, DAPA needs a reliable airplane that can fill up various types of electronic equipment and meet Air Force requirements. In March 2022, South Korea used a Boeing 737-500 plane modified into a flying testbed to verify the performance of a computer-controlled array antenna system for KF-21.
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