January 31, 2019 09:34
Korea's first aerial refueling tanker was commissioned in a ceremony at Gimhae Air Base on Wednesday afternoon in the presence of Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo.
The KC-330 "Cygnus," bought from Europe's Airbus in November last year, was deployed warfare-ready after a series of tests here.
The aerial tanker "will further boost the combat capabilities of the military to respond to threats in a rapidly changing security environment," Jeong said at the ceremony.
The KC-330 can carry up to 111 tons of fuel, enough to refuel about 10 F-15K or about 20 KF-16 fighter jets in mid-air. It can also carry about 300 personnel and 47 tons of cargo.
The deployment will give fighter jets greater maneuverability in remote areas like the easternmost islets of Dokdo and the submerged shelf of Ieo.
Without the help of an aerial tanker, the F-15K can carry out missions over Dokdo for only about 30 minutes and over Ieo for about 20 minutes, and the KF-16 over Dokdo for about 10 minutes and over Ieo for about five. But now they can carry out missions for about an hour longer per charge.
Korea will acquire a total of four KC-330s by December, which are expected to perform regular missions starting July 2020.
Pyongyang has denounced Seoul since November for purchasing them, which may have persuaded the Air Force to keep the ceremony small-scale.
But a military source said the plan has always been for the defense minister to attend "as a signal that the military isn't too worried what Pyongyang thinks."
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