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South Korea’s Advanced Counter-Battery Radar Systems: A Comprehensive Overview

Identify the origin of North Korean artillery fire provocation in real-time
Detect North Korean long-range artillery shells within 10 seconds
Identify the location of multiple shells fired simultaneously
Detects missiles up to 60 kilometers away

北 포병을 떨게 하는 ‘비밀 병기’는…장사정포 무력화 하는 ‘대포병 레이더’[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
The ARTHUR counter-battery radar system. Photo provided by Saab

The critical equipment of our military’s counter-fire power, which tracks the origin of provocations in real-time if North Korea provokes with artillery fire, is the “counter-battery (detection) radar.” All countries with organized artillery possess this equipment, which analyzes the ballistic trajectory of the shells fired by the enemy and supports counterattacks by figuring out the enemy’s location in reverse.

The South Korean Army has two types of counter-battery radars to enhance ground forces’ real-time counter-fire ㅈwarfare capabilities. These are the “AN/TPQ-36·37” and the “ARTHUR” counter-battery (detection) radars. There is one more. The “AN/TPQ-74K Cheon Gyeong” was introduced by promoting the development of counter-battery (detection) radar-II, which is being developed with domestic technology for operation at the corps level. It belongs to the domestically developed “Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA).” The latest model has a continuous operating time of 18 hours and a detection range of over 37.3 miles. It can confirm the origin of provocation by detecting North Korean long-range artillery shells flying within 10 seconds and then backtracking the flight trajectory. The detection range is more than 1.5 times longer than the Swedish “ARTHUR-K” currently used by the South Korean military, and it can be operated even in bad weather as it is designed to suit the Korean climate.

AN/TPQ-37 Detects Shells and Rockets Beyond 31 Miles

The AN/TPQ-36 produced by Lockheed Martin can detect rockets, artillery, and mortar shells with a detection range of 15.5 miles and a detection angle of 90 degrees. A Humvee tows it. On the other hand, the larger AN/TPQ-37 has the same detection angle as the AN/TPQ-36 but can also detect surface-to-surface missiles with a detection range of about 31 miles.

Thus, the AN/ TPQ-36 can capture 10 coastal artillery shells fired from North Korean tunnels and caves, including North Korean long-range artillery (including 240mm multiple rocket launcher shells and 170mm self-propelled artillery shells), and determine where they were fired from. The AN/TPQ-37, with a more extended detection range, catches shells and rockets flying from beyond 31 miles.

The AN/TPQ-36 with a shorter detection range is called a “counter-battery radar.” On the AN/TPQ screen, coastal artillery and self-propelled artillery shells appear as dots. Still, the 240mm multiple rocket launcher shells, known to be up to 5m long, appear as a solid line on the radar screen, making it easy to identify. The unit price is known to be 3.7 billion KRW (about $2.78 million) for the AN/TPQ-36 and 14.7 billion KRW (about $11 million) for the AN/TPQ-37.

Their detection method is that the radar scans a 90-degree area and detects incoming rockets, artillery, or mortar fire. It only tracks the initial trajectory of the fired shell or rocket before it reaches its peak, and the origin of the launch is calculated by backtracking using the tracking data analyzed by the program installed on the radar.

北 포병을 떨게 하는 ‘비밀 병기’는…장사정포 무력화 하는 ‘대포병 레이더’[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
Data: Defense Acquisition Program Administration

Recently, the more evolved “AN/TPQ-53” model has emerged. This system is composed of two 5-ton trucks. The radar operating angle is 90 degrees and 360 degrees. The radar mounted on the first truck tracks incoming rockets, field artillery shells, and mortar shells toward our base, finding the origin of the fire for retaliatory fire. The second truck accommodates the operation cell and, generator, etc.

This radar can also identify and track drones. Tactical drones used in the field do not fly in a parabola like shells, and their maneuverability is very slow. They can hover utterly stationary in the air, making them difficult to detect because they move ultimately differently from shells.

However, it took advantage of the fact that they move at almost the same altitude as shells, and the AN/TPQ-53’s Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar has the advantage of being able to detect, identify, track, and identify multiple drones and transmit related data to the command and control center.

The U.S. Army has deployed the AN/TPQ-53 radar since 2010, replacing the older AN/TPQ-36 and AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder.

ARTHUR Detects 37.3 Miles and Tracks Over 100 Targets

2006, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration completed the counter-battery (detection) radar (WLR-X) project. For this, the introduction of the Swedish ARTHUR counter-battery radar was decided at the 24th Defense Acquisition Program Promotion Committee. ARTHUR was evaluated as superior in performance and cost-effectiveness as it is compatible with the AN/TPQ-37 counter-battery detection radar the existing military uses. ARTHUR is a term synthesized from ARTillery, HUnting, and Radar. 

The WLR-X project was divided into two stages. The first stage was force-integrated by December 2009 by importing directly from the manufacturer through overseas commercial purchase methods. The second stage plans to complete the force integration by December 2015 by producing it in Korea’s LIG Nex1 through technical cooperation with the original manufacturer.

The initial equipment is a C-band passive phased array radar developed by Erricson Microwave Systems, a Swedish telecommunications company, mounted on a Bv-206 (Bandvagn-206) tracked multi-purpose vehicle produced by Hagglunds. It was continuously improved from the basic model A to models B, C, and D.

The radar system weighs 4.5 tons, which is relatively lightweight. The radar and vehicle are integrated, providing excellent mobility and easy operation. The maximum detection range reaches 37.3 miles. It can also counter electronic warfare (ECM) and can track over 100 targets per minute.

北 포병을 떨게 하는 ‘비밀 병기’는…장사정포 무력화 하는 ‘대포병 레이더’[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
The appearance of the Counter-Battery Radar “Cheon Gyeong” was introduced at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defence Exhibition. Photo provided by Kookbangilbo

The Counter-Battery Radar-II is the key equipment of the counter-fire system that neutralizes North Korean long-range artillery threatening the capital area. In case of war, if the North Korean army shoots a long-range artillery, it detects the flying shell, backtracks the flight trajectory to determine the location of the long-range artillery, and automatically broadcasts this information to the artillery unit. Based on this, the artillery unit can destroy the origin of North Korean provocations in real-time.

The core is AN/TPQ-74K Cheon Gyeong, a C-band multi-function counter-battery (detection) radar. Unlike the passive electronically scanned array applied to the existing AN/TPQ-36·37 and ARTHUR-K, it is the latest active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that applies gallium nitride (GaN) components to the transmit and receive module (TRM).

GaN, obtained by reacting gallium and ammonia at around 1100℃, can achieve a power density and power efficiency of more than 7 times higher than gallium arsenide (GaAs) cells.

AN/TPQ-74K Detection and Continuous Operational Capability Doubles

This is being applied to the latest radar equipment, such as the U.S. AN/TPQ-53/65 artillery detection radar, demonstrating strengths in efficiency enhancement and miniaturization.

Cheon Gyeong has increased its detection range and continuous operation capability by 30-40% compared to ARTHUR-K thanks to these advanced technologies. If two units are operated alternately, they can perform a required operation continuously 365 days a year regardless of day and night and weather conditions. Also, the ability to handle simultaneous targets at the same time is about twice as high, so it can immediately respond to enemy provocations by transmitting the information of multiple enemy firing origins to our artillery in real-time.

The localization rate of Cheon Gyeon was announced to be about 95% at the time of initial mass production. This ensures quick and smooth military support in case of failure and guarantees perfect mission performance without operational gaps. It is also possible to operate economically regarding repair and maintenance costs compared to foreign products.

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