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The Drone Index: KAI RQ-101 Night Intruder

May 6, 2017

As a world leader in electronics it isn’t surprising to learn how South Korea nurtures outsized ambitions for its domestic UAVs. But just like the rest of its manufacturing and industrial base it took decades until drones claimed an indispensable role in the country’s security landscape.

The RQ-101 is the largest UAV from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and a stepping stone for future development of long-range surveillance and attack drones. The RQ-101 is a twin-boom model recognizable for the propeller guard that straddles either wing, looming above its airframe. The RQ-101’s conventional appearance reflects its role as an airborne intelligence system for observing territory and terrain.

The RQ-101’s origins can be traced to the 1990s when UAV technology was first recognized as a vital asset for South Korea’s ground forces. The Israeli-made Searcher II UAV is believed to have formed the basis for KAI’s new short-range platform, which it named the Night Intruder.

The first variant entered production by 2004 and the ROK Army soon deployed it as a corps-level system for ISR missions in and around the DMZ. The existing fleet of RQ-101’s underwent an upgrade from 2008 to 2011.

The RQ-101 has a wingspan of 21 feet and measures 15.1 feet from its nose to its tail. It runs on an unspecified engine type that gives it a maximum speed of 185 km/h, a cruising speed of 150 km/h, and a service ceiling of more than 14,000 feet. The RQ-101 can deploy for six hour missions over a radius of 80 km.

Via KAI.

The exact numbers of RQ-101’s in service with the ROK Army are unknown but reviewing open sources suggests a few dozen are operational by 2017. But it’s the largest South Korean UAV to date and the most capable in KAI’s family of small battlefield drones.

South Korea’s first experiment with drones dates to 1978 when it attempted building target decoys for anti-aircraft gunnery practice. The program went dormant soon after and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the requirement for UAVs was revived.

Seoul is determined to carve a niche in the global UAV industry by using institutions like the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Korea Defense Industry Association (KDIA) as proxies for local drone manufacturers. Under former President Park Geun Hye the year 2025 was chosen as the benchmark for capturing a decent chunk of the global drone market. By that time at least $13 billion in revenues are expected for the country’s UAV and aerospace sector.

KAI is definitely riding the crest of this wave since it’s now perfecting a jet-powered UAV.

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