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South Korea to acquire new AEW&C aircraft to track North Korean missiles

The Republic of Korea Air Force already operates four Boeing E-7 Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft. (Boeing)

Increasing North Korean ballistic missile activity has prompted South Korea to proceed with the planned acquisition of additional airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) already operates four Boeing E-7A ‘Peace Eye' AEW&C aircraft, according to Janes data. Seoul acquired these aircraft in 2011–12 as part of an effort to expand its airborne surveillance and early warning infrastructure.

The new acquisition is expected to enhance the RoK's “ability to monitor North Korean missiles and defend its airspace”, South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said in a statement on 26 May. The acquisition is being planned for the country's Airborne Early Warning-II (AEW-II) programme.

North Korea's missile launches are increasing in frequency. According to information gathered by Janes, between 54 and 60 ballistic missile launches were conducted over a six-month period from 1 October 2022 to 12 April 2023. These numbers include unconfirmed or suspected missile launches. Information for a comparative six-month period from 15 September 2021 to 16 April 2022 from the Nuclear Threat Initiative showed 19 launches.

According to DAPA, the Defense Project Promotion Committee deliberated and decided on the draft purchase plan of the additional AEW&C aircraft on 25 May.

South Korea has been considering the procurement of at least two additional aircraft since 2021, according to Janes data. This initial procurement of two aircraft by 2027 had a projected budget of KRW1.59 trillion (USD1.22 billion). However, in its 26 May announcement, DAPA saidthe draft procurement proposal had set the total project cost at KRW3.9 trillion (USD3 billion). This suggests that the procurement number has potentially been increased to three or four aircraft, Janes assesses.

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