South Korea to delay indigenous fighter, attack helicopter programmes

Singapore
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South Korea's defence ministry has reduced the funding for the development of indigenous fighters and attack helicopters as part of a major cost-cutting plan.

Successive South Korean governments have sought to push for indigenous solutions to the country's military requirements, leading to the KFX programme to develop a fighter to replace the air force's Northrop F-5s and a Korea Attack Helicopter (KAH) programme to replace the army's Bell AH-1s and Hughes 500s.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration, the country's defence procurement agency, had hoped to secure funding to begin developing the KFX and embark on more studies into the KAH in 2010. But these will be delayed as the country aims to trim the expenditure of some ministries in an effort to increase spending on welfare programmes, and on measures that ensure that economic growth continues in 2010.

Seoul has also postponed a decision on a $1 billion requirement for eight new airborne mine countermeasures helicopters. The AgustaWestland AW101 and Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk were in contention for the deal.

Overall, the Ministry of National Defense has asked for a 3.8% increase to 29.6 trillion won ($25.1 billion) for the 2010 budget, down from the 7.9% rise it had asked for in July. Former defence minister Lee Sang Hee expressed his dissatisfaction over the planned cut in August, but was replaced by Kim Tae Young, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in September.

"Despite the reduction in the rate of increase, the new budget will sufficiently help defence projects to be pursued in a stable manner," the ministry says.

Spending on Boeing F-15K fighters has not been affected by the budget cut, according to industry sources, but Seoul could delay a decision on whether to order 36 attack helicopters from a Western manufacturer until 2011.

Spending on the research and development of several new weapon systems will rise by 0.5% to 6.1% of the total budget, or 1.7 trillion won. The work will include continued support for the development of the Korea Aerospace Industries F/A-50 light attack aircraft, and medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicles.

Given Seoul's worries about North Korea's nuclear missile threats, the ministry says it will give priority to equipment including early warning radars and ballistic missile interceptors.