Western media has been guilty of hyping up the threat of North Korea’s newly christened ‘Rocket Man’ who will soon be armed with nuclear weapons and a viable intercontinental ballistic missile. As it happens, life carries on as normal in South Korea; the country’s citizens are used to routine high jinks from its belligerent neighbour to the north.
To be sure, nobody wants a nuclear-armed Kim Jong-un. However, the inflammatory rhetoric between Trump and Kim has not ruffled the feathers of those who live within range of Pyongyang’s missile and artillery forces.
The Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2017 was proof of South Korea’s quiet determination to defend itself. Indeed, the country’s extensive and very capable defence industry used the opportunity to roll out a variety of new products.
The Republic of Korea (ROK) Armed Forces and the USAF used the venue to show their capabilities too. The USAF, for example, flew in pairs of F-22 Raptor fighters and F-35A Lightning II fighters. Another first for Seoul ADEX was the presence of an RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 30 belonging to the USAF. With Seoul having signed up for four Global Hawks that are due in 2018-19, this was the first time one had actually appeared at the show.
A critically important project for South Korea is its next-generation fighter aircraft, the KF-X being developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). A spokesman said it is undergoing ‘refinement and its configuration is being altered as testing continues’ ahead of a preliminary design review in mid-2018. KAI also unveiled its latest T-50A advanced jet trainer, a candidate for the USAF’s T-X programme.
KAI showed a series of scale models of its Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) and Light Civil Helicopter (LCH), both based on the H155 and being developed under a $10 billion programme. A critical design review has been completed and a first prototype should roll out in the third quarter of 2018.
Representing the gradual expansion of its KUH-1 Surion helicopter range, KAI demonstrated a new Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) version at Seoul ADEX 2017. Last year KAI was awarded a contract to build these. Production commenced earlier this year and the first will be handed over to the marines in December.
Hanwha Defense Systems displayed a range of armoured vehicles at Seoul ADEX 2017. These included the K21-105 medium tank, Hybrid Bi Ho self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon system, K105HT truck-based 105mm howitzer and Chunmoo multiple launch rocket system.
Hyundai Rotem is another giant South Korean defence company, and it showed off two versions of its 8×8 Wheeled Armoured Vehicle (WAV) family, a peacekeeping operations version and an ambulance.
Hyundai Rotem also displayed a scale model of its 55t Korean Combat Engineering Vehicle, which features a full-width mine plough from Pearson Engineering. The company also revealed that it is returning to Renk to supply transmissions for its second batch of K2 MBTs. Deliveries were suspended because of reliability troubles with the S&T Dynamics transmission.
Moving on to small arms, S&T Motiv displayed several new developmental weapons for the ROK Army.
South Korea continues to leverage unmanned technologies too. Hanwha Techwin exhibited its 6×6 Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle, which is competing for an army development contract. LIG Nex1 also showed a scale model of its Sea Sword USV.
The Aerospace Division of Korean Air (KAL-ASD) showed a new KUS-HD hybrid UAS that uses a petrol engine to recharge its electrical batteries. Another KAL-ASD design on show was a prototype of the KUS-VT tiltrotor capable of VTOL flying. The strategic-level KUS-FS, a MALE aircraft destined for the ROKAF, first flew in 2012 and a series of flight tests was completed last year. Korean Air also showed a conceptual model of the next-generation KUS-FC, an armed aircraft with stealthy design and internal weapon bay.
KAL-ASD again showed its KUS-VH, with the company recording progress in its quest to create an unmanned MD 500 helicopter. It undertook its first flights last year with a pilot aboard.
There were digital advancements too, including fielding of the Tactical Information Communication Network (TICN) by the ROK Army, and LIG Nex1 showed a weapon locating radar and short-range AESA air defence radar.
And my personal highlight of Seoul ADEX 2017? Probably the level of security provided for President Moon Jae-in when he flew in for the show’s opening ceremony.
His motorcade of black SUVs with balaclava-clad close-protection personnel would have rivalled anything the US president could have dreamed of.