Defence ministry responds to reduction in US armed commitment by requesting funds for modernisation programmes

South Korea is proposing to increase its defence budget by 13.4% next year in response to a reduction in US troop numbers in the country and growing modernisation requirements. The Ministry of National Defence (MND) has requested 21.5 trillion won ($18.5 billion) for 2005, including 7.3 trillion won on force investment.

Major new programmes to be contracted before year-end, pending legislature approval, include the purchase of surface-to-air missiles, airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), VIP helicopters and the Korean Multi-role Helicopter (KMH).

On 11 June, Boeing and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) submitted proposals for four AEW aircraft. As expected, IAI has teamed with Gulfstream and L-3 to offer a smaller alternative to the heavily favoured Boeing 737 solution with Northrop Grumman's Mesa radar. Under the IAI bid, Gulfstream will provide the G550 business jet, L-3 the communications suite and IAI the mission system and radar. A contract is expected by November.

South Korea also plans to award an estimated $100 million contract in November for three VIP helicopters. Proposals are due next month, with an evaluation of the AgustaWestland EH101 and Sikorsky S-92 expected in August.

New proposals are due within the next few weeks for the refurbishment and upgrade of eight Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion MPAs being acquired from the US Navy's excess inventory. Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is bidding for the work with partner L-3 against a team led by Lockheed Martin with Korean Air Aerospace as subcontractor. The process of activating the first two aircraft has already begun.

KMH is expected to take the bulk of South Korea's defence budget over the next decade. But for 2005 MND has proposed only $17 million to kick start development.

Many industry insiders doubt the proposed budget increase will pass, but some say Seoul has no choice but to boost its defence spending after several years of only marginal increases. Some believe an extra double-digit rise in the defence budget will be necessary within the next couple of years for programmes such as KMH to be executed.

The 2005 budget proposal also extends several big-ticket programmes, including the Boeing F-15K and KAI/Lockheed Martin T-50. Aproposed surface-to-air missile purchase involves the launch of the long-delayed SAM-X project.



Source: Flight International