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South Korea Is Already Selling This Mystery Missile

January 15, 2021
Via Hanwha Defense.

One of the last big arms shows in 2020 before the global pandemic cancelled these events (with few exceptions) was a huge draw for South Korean exhibitors. India’s biennial DEFEXPO in February proved an immense undertaking by any measure and the companies inside the venue left nothing to chance when it came to displaying their products. For South Korea’s Hanwha Defense, whose K9 self-propelled howitzer is manufactured in India as the K9 Vajra, a spacious pavilion was erected for showing off its catalog and a static display of the Biho “hybrid” air defense system.

The Biho is the name for a self-propelled anti-aircraft combat vehicle based on the hull of a K21 IFV. The Biho mounts a turret combining tandem 30mm cannons with four short-range SAMs. Given the company’s success transferring the production of the K9 to an Indian partner, the Biho was brought to DEFEXPO for attracting the Indian army, whose leadership want new mobile air defenses. But on the other side of the Hanwha Defense pavilion were two weapons that aren’t advertised by the company.

What appears to be an air-to-ground missile designed for South Korea’s Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) program is shown in the picture above. The LAH is a joint venture between Eurocopter and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to produce a replacement for the ROK Army’s aging AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters and MD-500 scout helicopters. Other South Korean manufacturers are involved in the joint venture such as LIG Nex1 and, of course, Hanwha Defense.

If the LAH looks familiar this is because it’s another variant of the successful Eurocopter AS365, previously known as the Aerospatiale Dauphin, that’s been sold in five continents. KAI tweaked the LAH for combat optimization, installing a pivoting three barrel 20mm cannon under its cockpit, and winglets are added on either side of the cabin for armaments such as rocket pods and missiles. Remarkably, for a rotary aircraft whose development will only be completed in 2022, the LAH is export approved along with its heftier sibling the Surion–the South Korean variant of the Eurocopter Super Puma.

As indicated by the printed text on the missiles displayed by Hanwha Defense, these precision guided munitions were made with help from the government’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD). While Hanwha didn’t promote the missiles’ characteristics to any media at DEFEXPO its appearance suggests it’s a non-line-of-sight or NLOS munition with range exceeding several kilometers. An interesting detail about it is its length and diameter seem less than other air-to-ground missiles designed for Western attack helicopters. It isn’t hard to imagine the same missile being repurposed as a ground-based anti-tank weapon like the Israeli-made Spike LR to complement the top attack Raybolt ATGM made by LIG Nex1.

Readers have since commented on social media that the missile is called “Cheongeom” or “Heavenly Sword” and is part of Hanwha Defence’s static displays in other industry events where it’s also labelled “TAIpers.” Yet exact specifications for the missile remain elusive even if Hanwha Defense showed tabletop models of customized ground vehicles adapted as missile carriers for this munition.

A 100mm handheld rocket launcher at DEFEXPO 2020. Via Hanwha Defense.

Another curio at Hanwha Defense’s pavilion at DEFEXPO 2020 is a portable rocket launcher meant for individual soldiers. This too is nowhere to be found on Hanwha’s online product literature or any South Korean military product database. The rocket launcher does resemble the Spanish-made Alcotan-100 and even its rangefinder and fire control unit are almost identical to Instalaza’s well-known product; the Alcotan C-100 is able to hit mobile and static targets 600 meters away. The shape of the warhead below it indicates a short-range high explosive penetrator for piercing tank armor. At present, the ROK Army’s conscripts train with a variety of recoilless anti-tank weapons such as the AT4, M67 90mm recoilless rifle, M72 LAW, M3 Carl Gustaf, and Panzerfaust 3. Having a lightweight and reusable alternative to all these is surely welcome.

Just like the air-to-ground NLOS missile displayed above it this South Korean infantry weapon is for sale to the rest of the world’s militaries.


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