Korea will pick an aerial refueling aircraft next year with a goal of deploying it by 2017. A Defense Ministry committee in a meeting on Wednesday approved the Defense Acquisition Program Administration's roadmap for the purchase.
The military will announce the tender in January and make the final selection later next year.
The total cost will be about W1 trillion (US$1=W1,062) for four refueling tankers between 2017 and 2019.
Potential candidates include Airbus Military's MRTTA330 and Boeing's KC-767.
The refueling aircraft will give the Air Force's fighter jets a much wider operational radius and far longer operational hours.
Currently, an F-15K taking off from a Daegu base can continue operations near Dokdo for about 30 minutes and near the submerged shelf of Ieo Island for some 20 minutes. After a sortie from Chungju, a KF-16 can carry out operations near Dokdo for about 10 minutes and near Ieo for just five minutes.
Aerial refueling would raise the time to more than an hour and allow them to carry additional weapons.
"Once we buy the refueling aircraft, we'll have a stronger deterrent against North Korea along with the F-35A stealth fighters and Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance drones," an Air Force officer said.