Boeing remains optimistic that the South Korean air force will press ahead on schedule with its airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft procurement, despite the country's economic difficulties.

Jack Sperry, Boeing 767 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) programme manager, says: "Our perception is that Korea is a strong country and we think they'll rebound. We're still optimistic they're going to proceed." The programme is also expected to stay on track, he adds.

Sperry says that contractor selection is planned to be announced in 1999, with South Korea expected to require a fleet of four or more AEW aircraft. Boeing is competing against the Israel Aircraft Industries Phalcon using a Boeing 767 and Ericsson Radar with its Erieye system on board a Saab 2000.

If selected, the 767 AWACS would be bought under a foreign military sales (FMS) contract similar to that arranged with first customer Japan. That contract was ratified by the Japanese Government in early 1993 and involved the commercial sale of production standard 767-200ERs from Boeing to a holding company.

The 767s were then modified as AWACS and accepted and tested as FMS aircraft by the US Air Force before handover was made to the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF). The JASDF formally took delivery of the first two aircraft in Seattle on 11 March.

Sperry says that Boeing hopes for 767 AWACS sales of " eight to 20 aircraft over the next decade or so", with Saudi Arabia likely to be a potential customer. The USAF "has no firm plans to move up to the 767", but is watching the programme with interest, he adds.

The first two JASDF E-767s will fly to their base at Hamamatsu, near Tokyo, before the end of the month. Aircraft three and four are at Boeing Field where mission equipment is being installed.

Functional check out and production acceptance testing is to begin on aircraft number three in August and be completed by November. The number four aircraft, which will run about a month behind, will be delivered with the third E-767 in another combined handover ceremony on 29 January, 1999.

Source: Flight International