Korea’s first early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft flies toward Gimhae Air Base near Busan after undergoing modification work and tests at Boeing’s Seattle plant, Monday. / Yonhap
By Lee Tae-hoon
Korea’s first early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, to be deployed next month, arrived at an Air Force base Monday, an official of the country’s defense procurement agency said.
“The first one arrived at Gimhae Air Base today from Boeing’s factory in Seattle and it will be deployed for use by the Air Force in early September after undergoing final flight tests and acceptance inspections,” Lt. Col. Lee Ki-wook of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said.
The E-737, nicknamed “Peace Eye,” is capable of 360-degree detection and tracking airborne and maritime targets within a 370-kilometer radius.
“It is capable of locating airborne or seaborne targets on the entire Korean Peninsula, including ones flying at low altitude infiltrating mountainous areas,” he said.
Lee noted that if Peace Eye is flying near the border area, it will be able to detect enemy airplane infiltrations in both the East Sea and West Sea, given that the peninsula is only approximately 250 kilometers wide.
He said that the remaining three planes, priced at $400 million each, will be subsequently delivered at five-month intervals with the last one expected to go through final tests here in late 2012.
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has been modifying the remaining 737 AEW&Cs at its facility in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, with Northrop Grumman’s L-band Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar.
The MESA radar can simultaneously track up to 1,000 airborne targets, allowing nearly the entire peninsula to come under its surveillance range.
The Peace Eye can fly at a maximum operating altitude of 41,000 feet and carry out surveillance missions for eight hours regardless of weather conditions without refueling.
It is expected to significantly improve the nation’s defense capabilities against North Korea’s AN-2 planes, propeller-driven biplanes capable of carrying 10 to 15 heavily armed soldiers.
Pyongyang is believed to possess some 300 AN-2s, which give off virtually no radar signature.
Seoul concluded the deal to purchase the four E-737s from Boeing in 2006 as part of ongoing measures to improve its own sea and air defense capabilities prior to retaking wartime operational control of its military from the United States in 2015.
Australia has also purchased six of the advanced surveillance planes and Turkey bought four.
공중조기경보기(일명 피스아이 E-737) 1호기가 1일 오후 김해 공군기지에 도착했다.
방사청에 의하면 피스아이 1호기는 운용 시범비행과 최종 수락검사 등을 거쳐 내달 초 공군에 인도돼 실전임무에 들어갈 예정이다.
이 항공기는 한반도 전역 공중과 해상의 1천여개 표적을 동시 탐지하고 360도 전방위 감시도 가능한 MESA(다기능 전자식 위상배열) 레이더를 갖추고 있다.
MESA 레이더는 탐지거리가 370㎞에 이르고 북한의 저고도 침투용 AN-2기도 잡아낼 수 있다.
피스아이의 체공시간 8시간이고 대당 가격은 4천억원이다. 독자적인 정보 수집, 전파, 감시와 정찰 능력을 갖춘 최첨단 무기로 '하늘의 지휘소'로 불리며 전시작전권 단독행사의 핵심전력으로 꼽힌다.
1호기가 미국 시애틀 보잉사 공장에서 완성돼 인도된 것과는 달리 2~4호기는 현재 한국항공우주산업(KAI)에서 레이더 장착 등 개조 작업을 하고 있다
KAI에서 최신형 다기능 전자식 위상배열 레이더 및 전자장비 등을 장착하는 체계조립 중에 있으며 5개월 단위로 내년 말까지 공군에 인도될 예정이다.