April 14, 2011 12:31
The Army is poised to acquire a consignment of Apache helicopters. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration, in a report to the National Assembly's Defense Committee, said Wednesday it decided to buy large attack helicopters to replace the Army's superannuated 500MD and AH-1 attack choppers. It is to decide which model to buy and sign a contract by October next year.
Although DAPA did not specify the model or numbers, sources speculate that the likeliest decision is to buy 36 of the newest Apache Block III helicopters from the U.S., enough for two battalions. Each costs somewhere between W35 billion and W40 billion (US$1=W1,088), and the entire project is expected to cost W2 trillion in total.
The Army has tried to buy new Apache attack choppers since the 1990s, but budget problems and controversy over cost effectiveness put a spoke in the wheels.
But after the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year, the military discussed ways of dealing with North Korean special forces who might infiltrate on hovercraft, and experts pointed out that the Air Force's KA-1 light attack aircraft and AH-1 Cobra choppers alone would not be enough to drive them off.
They said that the time has gone when the South's small tank units alone had to stand up to the North's numerically superior forces and that the military now should seek to substitute air power, particularly new attack choppers. The North has about 4,100 tanks, compared to the South's 2,400.
The Army will likely find the budget for the purchase of new attack choppers by downscaling other ground weapons programs, including cutting the number of next-generation Black Panther tanks it is buying from 400 to 200.
Once armed with Apache choppers, the Army will be much more flexible in operations against the North's tanks and armored vehicles. The current Cobra choppers can be fitted with up to eight TOW missiles with a range of 4 km, but the Apache can carry up to 16 Hellfire missiles with a range of 10 km. It can also fly in all weathers, while the 500MD and Cobra are grounded at night and in cold weather.
Meanwhile, DAPA will review the Air Force's proposal for the long-delayed F-X next-generation fighter project in a session of the Defense Project Promotion Committee in June.
"We'll take into consideration stealth capabilities, cost, and possibility of assembling some aircraft in Korea to make a decision on the project," a spokesman said.
The Air Force is now eyeing Lockheed Martin's F-35, Boeing's F-15SE, and the upgraded Eurofighter Typhoon developed by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, with a view to completing the acquisition by 2016.
DAPA Commissioner Noh Dae-lae said the government could push for export of T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic advanced trainers and multirole fighters to the U.S. in a tit-for-tat deal if Korea buys stealth aircraft from the U.S.
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