The K-30 ‘Biho’ self-propelled anti-aircraft defense system is deployed in the field. Built by Hanwha Defense, a defense manufacturer of South Korea, the 30mm twin gun system is designed to engage low-flying incoming targets such as drones. Courtesy of Hanwha Defense

Korea’s cost-effective anti-drone system draws attention

SEOUL: The leaders of South Korea and Saudi Arabia have vowed to step up their defense cooperation, as the Kingdom suffered the deadliest attack on its oil facilities when a swarm of drones struck two major oil plants to destroy nearly half of the country’s global supply of crude.   

President Moon Jae-in had a 25-minute phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on Sept. 18 to discuss mutual efforts to thwart international terrorism, according to the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office.

Moon condemned the drone attacks, for which Iran-backed Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility, calling for the global community’s unified response to terrorism.

“The attack on Saudi oil facilities represents a threat to the security of South Korea but also to the whole world,” Moon was quoted as saying, referring to the fact that his country gets about 30 percent of its total crude imports from the Kingdom. “The international community should resolutely deal with the matter.”

The Saudi crown prince expressed gratitude for Moon’s support, pledging his country would restore the oil output 100 percent within 10 days, Blue House spokeswoman Koh Min-jung said.

In particular, MBS asked for South Korea’s cooperation on efforts to bolster Saudi’s anti-air defense systems against drone attacks, she added.

“Both leaders agreed to continue consultation on matters of strengthening defense cooperation,” Koh said without elaborating what measures the two sides would take for beefing up the Saudi Arabian air defense capability.

The Saudi Arabian request followed South Korea’s latest announcement of a project to develop laser weapons to shoot down drones and other small aerial targets.

According to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, the military will spend some $74 million to develop the anti-drone weapons systems codenamed Block-I by 2023 for operational deployment.

“The laser weapons system is to be capable of directing lasers from optical fibers at aerial targets at a short distance to take them down,” the DAPA said in a press release. “It can react quickly to threats and is capable of firing a number of shots without physical bullets and shells.”

Relying on electrical power, the system is economically efficient since it costs only around $2 per shot, the agency said.

“The Saudi delegation showed a keen interest in the progress of the laser weapons development at the time,” an ADD source told Arab News on condition of anonymity. “As we have successfully developed this anti-drone technology for years, it could help Saudi bolster its air defense system, particularly against drones, in the near future.”

Defense industry sources here believe Riyadh, in the short-term, would be interested in purchasing ready-made air defense systems built by South Korean defense manufacturers.

The K-30 Biho mobile air defense system is a top candidate. Developed by Hanwha Defense, a ground defense systems manufacturer of Hanwha Group, the system is designed to engage targets with an effective range of 3 kilometers with the help of an advanced surveillance radar on a K200 chassis.

A hybrid version of the K30 Biho is also fitted with surface-to-air missile launchers. The system has a detectable range of 21 kilometers, according to Hanwha.

The Hybrid Biho was tested and evaluated by the Saudi Arabian military in 2017 and has since been referred to be one of the defense items to be procured.

“The test and evaluation of the Biho system was successful in 2017, and Hanwha has been discussing the potential sale of the anti-aircraft system to the Saudi armed forces,” an industry source said in a phone interview with Arab News. “The system is proven to be effective in the battlefield and cost-efficiency.”

In recognition of its proven performances, the Indian Army has de facto selected the South Korean air defense armament following a competition with Russian equipment, according to Hanwha officials.  

Saudi Arabia is the No. 1 customer of American weapons systems, but after the crippling drone attacks, questions have been raised if cutting-edge US defense equipment mainly designed to deter high-altitude attacks are fit for defending against low-cost drones and cruise missiles.

The Saudi air defense system has long been the US-made long-range Patriot system, which has successfully intercepted high-flying ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen against the rebel group in 2015.

But since drones and cruise missiles fly more slowly and at lower altitudes, the Patriot systems are known to be difficult to detect and intercept them.


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