Unmanned, robotic systems transforming ROK defenses

Unmanned, robotic systems transforming ROK defenses

Felix Kim

The Republic of Korea’s (ROK’s) military is increasingly relying on leading defense manufacturers to develop unmanned and robotic systems to meet the country’s national defense priorities.

A recent Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) initiative focuses on enabling the military to deter and defend against a range of threats while meeting operational safety requirements.

“The rapid pilot acquisition project is a system designed to allow the military to quickly apply rapidly changing new technology developed by the private sector and is expected to become an innovative model for defense capability improvement in the future,” DAPA Director Wang Jeong-hong said in a news release.

The initiative streamlines connections between the government defense establishment and private firms, which accelerates technology development, Wang added.

Systems under development include a trio of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with attack capabilities, pictured, an unmanned aerial surveillance sensor (UASS) and an autonomous underwater mine search system.

These unmanned and robotic systems address various potential threats, said Dr. Kim Jae Yeop of the Pacific Rim Institute for Strategic Studies. These include possible infiltration by North Korean military units into front-line areas such as the Korean Peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone and the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea; land and naval mines; improvised explosive devices; and radioactive, biological and chemical weapons.

These systems are also tasked to counter the most dangerous threats from North Korea, which are time-sensitive targets “like ground missile launchers, long-range artillery and submarines, which require constant and persistent reconnaissance activities,” Kim said.

The promise of reduced personnel requirements offered by these systems makes them valuable to South Korea in light of the country’s shrinking pool for conscript Soldiers, Kim added. Moreover, “due to enhanced domestic awareness of human rights and individual safety, casualties in the military have become a more sensitive issue in Korea.”

The attack UAVs under development will be the first of their kind in the ROK military, according to DAPA. The agency described them as a “self-destructing drone,” a “rifle aiming and shooting drone” and a “small reconnaissance and strike hybrid drone.” It characterized them as “game changers in the future.”

The UASS combines and deploys sensors in areas with definite boundaries such as coastlines and general outposts. DAPA is working with defense firm Hanwha Systems to develop the technology. If an enemy approaches, the UASS automatically sends an alert and the target can then be identified through the onboard image sensor.

DAPA and LIG Nex1 Co. Ltd. are developing an underwater robot that searches for mines using advanced technologies such as autonomous navigation and obstacle avoidance.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.