April 18, 2013 12:25
The government has picked Boeing's AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopter for a strategic project aimed at neutralizing North Korea's multiple rocket launchers and hovercraft that threaten the northwesternmost islands.
A committee chaired by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Wednesday gave the final nod to the selection of the AH-64E over Bell Helicopter's AH-1Z Viper and the T-129 of Turkish Aerospace Industries.
Seoul will buy 36 Apache helicopters worth W1.8 trillion (US$1=W1,119) between 2016 and 2018.
The Apache came to notice for its ability to destroy tanks during the Gulf War and elsewhere. Its forte is the Longbow fire-control radar, which is supposedly capable of identifying friend or foe among more than 1,000 ground targets. It can trace the movement of 256 targets and prioritize the 16 most dangerous ones.
The Apache can load air-to-ground anti-tank missiles, air-to-air missiles, 30-mm chain guns and infrared surveillance devices.
For instance, Apache helicopters equipped with air-to-ground Hellfire II missiles can hit a target up to 8 km away. They can also strike enemy choppers or fighter jets with the air-to-air Stringer missile.
The government hopes that they will help the country balance out its numerical inferiority to North Korean tanks. As of January 2012, North Korea had about 4,200 tanks compared to South Kore's 2,400.
The Apache will also give the South the ability to strike North Korean hovercraft that threaten the northwesternmost islands even at night or in bad weather, unlike the Cobra helicopters currently deployed there.
Last year, the North completed a base that can accommodate about 60 hovercraft at Koampo, Hwanghae Province, only about 50 km from Baeknyeong Island.
The Army will now be able to put older attack helicopters of the 1970s and 80s out of service.
The Army favored the Apache throughout the bidding process because of its superior features, but the price was a concern. Originally, the choppers were expected to cost about W2 trillion, way beyond its budget.
But Boeing reportedly slashed the price when an American helicopter lost out to a European rival in Navy procurement in January this year.
Boeing is also promising to transfer related technology to Korea.
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