Defence ministry expected to release tenders this month for new AEW&C aircraft and VIP transport helicopters

South Korea has allocated funds in its 2004 defence budget to kickstart the procurement of new airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, VIP and indigenous multirole helicopters and secondhand maritime patrol aircraft.

However, on 31 December the Korean National Assembly approved a $16.2 billion defence budget; far less than the $19 billion pledged by president Roo Moo-hyun.

The South Korean defence ministry is expected to release a tender at the end of this month for three large VIP helicopters, with a contract signature expected before year-end. Around $9 million has been allocated to launch this procurement, to cost ultimately about $100 million. AgustaWestland, Eurocopter and Sikorsky all plan to submit proposals for the requirement, and are hopeful that enough funding will be allocated in 2005 and 2006 to complete the project.

Manufacturers also expect a request for proposals for the supply of four AEW&C aircraft to be released within the next few weeks. About $2 million has been allocated to begin this long-delayed procurement (see below).

The National Assembly has also provided limited funding of $1 million to launch the Korean Multirole Helicopter (KMH) programme. The defence ministry had requested $4 million to define a concept and select a foreign contractor to partner Korea Aerospace Industries in the project, which could total $1 billion. The KMH programme office still plans to issue a tender by the end of February, select a foreign manufacturer by mid-year and begin development by year-end.

But the National Assembly earlier ordered an audit of the programme, which could result in its delay or even cancellation (Flight International, 11-17 November 2003).

The budget also includes funds to buy nine ex-US Navy Lockheed Martin P-3B Orion maritime patrol aircraft from the US government. Last month Seoul signed a letter of intent to take delivery of the aircraft from 2005-7 and plans to select a contractor later this year to refurbish eight of the aircraft, with the ninth to be used for spare parts.

Meanwhile, the South Korean air force is seeking quotes to arm 37 of its Lockheed Martin F-16s with Raytheon's AIM-120 AMRAAM and Boeing's Joint Direct Attack Munition. The air force is considering upgrading 12 Lockheed Martin C-130s with electronic-warfare equipment to protect them against possible attack while transporting troops to and from Iraq.

Source: Flight International