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S Korea Aims to Lead in UAV Technologies

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S Korea Aims to Become No. 3 UAV Tech Leader by 2023

(Source: Yonhap News Agency; published Sept 18, 2014)

Experimental tilt-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle made by Korea Aerospace Industries (Yonhap file photo)

SEOUL --- South Korea aims to become the third most technologically advanced producer of drones in the world in 2023 by utilizing its edge in the information technology field, the country's state-run aerospace research institute said Thursday.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute announced at an aerospace industry forum in Seoul that the country is poised to become a leader in the global unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market, which is expected to grow 10 percent annually up till the target year.

"By 2023, South Korean should only trail behind the United States and Israel in terms of technological prowess while ranking as the fourth largest supplier of drones as measured in sales," Choi Seong-wook, the director of the institute's future aircraft system said.

At present, South Korea currently ranks 7th among the "Tier 1" leading countries, which include the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Israel, Australia, Japan and Singapore, that possess the highest technological handling capabilities and quick new-technology absorption abilities.

He said South Korea's UAV sales will reach US$510 million from $1.65 million in 2013, when it did not make the top 30 countries list.

"The country's prowess in IT will play a part in the growth as well as the development of tilt-rotor capable drones that can hover like helicopters while also flying like fixed wing planes," the principle researcher said. Only the United States has developed tilt-rotor drones.

Choi said the country's growth will coincide with the rise of worldwide UAV sales from more than US$5 billion this year to well over $12 billion in nine years.

International data showed the growth will also lead to more civilian UAVs.

Market analysis showed the percentage of civilian drones will make up 8.8 percent of all machines sold in 2023 from just 0.6 percent at present. This, it said, is equivalent to the civilian drone market growing 35 percent annually, if various certification and safety issues that take time become resolved. Rapid growth in civilian sector UAV can offer more sales opportunities for South Korea.

On production goals, Choi said the goal is to churn out commercially viable tilt-rotor drones in 2020 with a 30 kilogram payload and loitering time of six hours and operational radius of 200 kilometers. This machine will have a max speed of 250 kilometers per hour.

He said by 2023, an enlarged model with a 50kg-plus payload, the ability to stay in the air for eight hours and a top speed exceeding 280 km/h will be built.

To promote sales, Choi said Seoul should work with countries like Israel that already has a market for drones.

Although it is difficult to predict prices, the researcher said a set of four tilt-rotor drones along with full complement of control systems should cost some 18 billion won (US$17 million).