A taegeuk mark symbolizing Korea along with the letters of the South Korean Air Force were clearly seen on the side of the aircraft Thursday last week. The early warning aircraft detects enemy movements from a distance for reporting to a ground base and controls the combat planes of friendly forces.
Boeing will deliver the first “Peace Eye” to South Korea in June, a month earlier than planned. A total of four will be delivered by the end of 2012 at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.85 bil.). The first will be built in the U.S. and the others will be fitted with radars and undergo final modification in Korea. South Korea will be the third country to deploy the E-737 after Australia and Turkey.
The E-737 is fitted with Northrop Grumman’s Multi-mode Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar and an identification friend or foe (IFF) system. It performed flawlessly in several test flights under rainy, snowy and windy conditions. The planes fly at between 9 -12 km (5.6 – 7.5 mi.) and can detect low-flying infiltration aircraft seeking to exploit mountainous terrain.
Unlike the disc-shaped radar of existing airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), which rotate once every 12 seconds to transmit and receive radar signals, the MESA radar can freely transmit and receive radar signals in any direction and distance. The maximum surveillance range of around 370 km (241 mi.), but focused transmissions of radar signals in one direction can expand the range up to 500 km (310 mi.). The E-737 can monitor all of North Korea from near the DMZ.
The E-737’s radar can also monitor ships and other maritime targets. Surveillance data can be transmitted to command headquarters and other weapons systems, including F-15K fighter jets. The E-737 can fire aluminum chaff and flares to evade heat-seeking missile attacks. It is fitted with six missile advance warning systems above and below the fuselage.
The military will operate the E-737s in three shifts of eight hours each. They can fly up to 20 hours after refueling.
Seoul decided in 2006 to purchase four E-737s for 1.6 billion U.S. dollars. The first one will be delivered in June and the remaining three by year`s end.
Boeing’s E-X program manager Randy Price said, “A ground radar base has difficulty detecting flying objects behind mountains and is vulnerable to aircraft flying at a low altitude, such as the AN-2 of North Korea, but the E-737s can overcome these shortcomings because they detect enemy flight in the air.”
“They are movable radars fitting the terrain of the Korean Peninsula.”
A 10-meter long antenna called MESA is attached to the top of the aircraft. Price said, “Previously, a radar in the shape of a cylinder circled every 12 seconds to detect enemy objects. In contrast, the MESA radar shoots beams in all directions simultaneously, so there is no blind spot in monitoring.”
An early warning airplane can monitor all objects in the airspace above the Korean Peninsula simultaneously. Seoul, however, has purchased four units as one airplane can fly for eight hours considering fuel and crew fatigue.
If three planes take turns in operations on a given day, the remaining one can undergo maintenance for the next operation.