The rise of unmanned attack aircraft over the battlefield is quite apparent to even the casual observer and Korean Air (Korean Aerospace Industries - KAI) of South Korea, along with U.S.-based Boeing, have agreed to jointly develop an unmanned, attack-minded version of the successful MD500 series light helicopter. With a large stock of aging MD500 units available to the South Korean Air Force, the project would see conversions of these systems to an unmanned model - designated "KUS-VH". A full-sized mock-up of the proposed product was seen at Seoul Aerospace & Defence Exhibition 2015.
Without the need of a pilot the helicopter will now see a reduced operational commitment over the battlescape. The passenger cabin is to be taken up by a large internal fuel tank increasing the operational range of the helicopter by 100%. The windscreen surfaces common to the MD500 will be shrouded over. By and large the overall form and function of the unit will remain intact. Optcis will be set in a fairing under the chin. Korean Air also markets the development under a low-cost approach to a comparable manned system of equal capabilities. Armament options will include rocket pods, gun pods and missiles which, when coupled to onboard systems, will provide a surgical strike capability with no potential pilot loss in enemy-held territory.
While the South Korean Air Force is not actively looking for a product like the KUS-VH, the possible reuse of the aging stock of MD500 helicopters might be tempting enough for the service to have a serious look. The MD500s currently in service will be retired over the next decade and number several hundred.
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July 2020 - Korean Air has delayed additional development of its 500MD unmanned variant, choosing instead to finalized the Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (MUAV) design (detailed elsewhere on this site).
Korean Air - South Korea / Boeing Company - USA Manufacturer(s)
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