KAI관계자는 또한 현재 생산중인 T-50 고등훈련기, FA-50 경 공격기처럼 향후 무인기도 수출할 수 있다고 덧붙였다.
그는 "국내에서만 쓰면 소용이 없다,"면서 "우리 군에서 먼저 쓰고 좋다는 평을 받으면 효과적으로 해외 마케팅을 할 수가 있다"고 말했다.
KAI는 2017년까지 군단 급 차기 무인기를 개발 중이며, 향후 공중 전투 작전을 벌일 수도 있는 5세대 스텔스 무인기 연구개발도 진행할 예정이라고 밝혔다.
미국의 저명한 물리학자이자 ‘대통령을 위한 물리학’의 저자인 리처드 뮬러는 "비용적으로 보면 무인기가 유인기보다 훨씬 더 저렴하다. 장거리 경무인기용 엔진 개발이 도전적인 과제가 되고 있지만, 한국은 충분히 만들 수 있는 능력을 가지고 있다"고 말한 바 있다.
한국항공우주연구원이 글로벌 시장조사 전문기관인 프로스트 앤 설리반(Frost and Sullivan)을 인용한 발표에 따르면 우리나라는 전세계적으로 무인기 기술보유국 1군(TIER 1)에 속한다.
<관련 영문 기사>Unmanned and untouchable
KAI gears up to develop weaponized stealth drones
SACHEON, South Gyeongsang Province – On the country’s southern coastal tip lies a facility as big as three soccer fields in which Korea Aerospace Industries’ engineers are busily producing its flagship aircraft and helicopters to meet their delivery deadlines.
KAI makes FA-50 fighter jets, supersonic trainer T-50s, which the light attacker was based on, and the Surion utility chopper. Now it seeks to expand its tactical air portfolio to accommodate the defense needs of Korea’s armed forces, as well as those of its allies.
With the technological know-how gained through years of working with world-leading firms such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Airbus, the South Korean aircraft maker seeks to develop next-generation unmanned aerial vehicles.
KAI believes drones, with stealth and dogfight capabilities, can further provide support to the armed forces facing growing unconventional threats in which enemies have become harder to detect and engage.
“It has been said that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be the last manned aircraft (to be developed and deployed),” Lee Dong-shin, vice president of KAI’s management and finance division, told a group of reporters.
“Drones would emerge as fifth-generation aircraft.”
KAI is currently developing a UAV for the Army that can outperform both in technology and mobility its first drone, called Night Intruder, which has been in operation since 2000.
Although it only exists in concept, a KAI official said it would develop a “Kamikaze” UAV, in which the drone itself is a missile with GPS and camera systems that can track and acquire hard targets especially hidden in caves, as soon as the government gives the green light.
“It could, for instance, be used when targeting North Korean artillery that is camouflaged inside caves,” the official noted.
With technological advancement, UAVs have become useful for reconnaissance and surveillance in danger zones, as can be seen from the increase in their use by the U.S. in recent years.
They not only reduce the risk of pilot casualties, but also achieve longer-distance covert missions cost-efficiently.
“They are substantially less expensive than human airplanes, and they have much longer flight times and longer ranges,” said Richard A. Muller, senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, in an email interview.
“One challenge for defense problems is the use of lightweight long-range engines.”
Muller, known for his book “Physics for Future Presidents,” added that their advantage is that they can be made “stealthier and smaller that can supplement, not replace, manned jets.”
The two Koreas recently had indirect engagements with both sides seeing their UAVs crash land during operations. This led many to speculate whether South Korea has what it takes to make and run advanced drones.
But experts said it would be “ridiculous” to say that it lacks the technology, as the Korea Aerospace Research Institute noted that the country is among the leaders in UAV capabilities, along with the U.S. and Israel, citing a report by a global researcher Frost & Sullivan.
By Park Hyong-ki (email@example.com