South Korea Invests $250M in Two Domestic UAS

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The government announced its plan to spend 260 billion won ($247.1 million) over the next eight years to commercialize two advanced models of Korean-made tiltrotor drones, high-speed unmanned aerial vehicles that the government is looking to export.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy unveiled the plan at a meeting with key aerospace industry insiders and researchers held at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) in Daejeon. Local aircraft manufacturers such as Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), Samsung Techwin and LIG Nex1 joined in to explain the industry’s grievances to the government.

“The unmanned aerial vehicle is the area where Korea can vie with advanced nations’ aerospace industries,” said Vice Minister Kim Jae-hong. “Starting with the tiltrotor, one of our ministry’s 15 most important industrial growth engines, we will actively support the technological development of next generation aircraft.”

The tiltrotor drone takes off and lands vertically and can remain airborne for up to five hours. It’s high-speed engine allows the aircraft to fly at 500 kilometers (311 miles) per hour, five times faster than a drone from North Korea.

KARI, the state-run aerospace research institute, developed the prototype and finished trial operations in 2012 after a decade spent on the project, which was backed by about 97 billion won from the government. In the process, Korea obtained the world’s second tiltrotor source technology.

The final plan would see the export of two models, one normal and another with enhanced functions, combining individual aircraft operations into an integrated system of embedded software-based modules.

The government said that now could be best time to increase Korea’s stake in the international aircraft market, as it is undergoing major reshuffling of parts suppliers and more makers are outsourcing parts of their production process.

In line with the trend, the nation’s largest aircraft maker, KAI, received an order worth about $1.1 billion to export T-50 fighter jets to Iraq, followed by another contract with the Philippines last month worth about $420 million. The government estimated that there will continue to be opportunities for Korean aircraft parts makers to make about $11.5 billion, mainly by supplying parts and systems to global companies like Boeing and Airbus.

In a bid to reach the export goal, the government said it will trim down regulations on the national financial support system by the latter half of the year. Many small and midsize aircraft parts manufacturers have had difficulty exporting because their current export loan was limited to a small amount and only to companies that meets credit requirements. The state-run Korea Trade Insurance will add aerospace industry to its export-exclusive loan program, which supplies up to 80 percent of the contract amount.

The government aims to make $20 billion from producing finished Korean aircraft and parts and to export more than $10 billion by 2020.

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