South Korea is accelerating the purchase of airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft by earmarking funds for the long-delayed E-X programme in its 2004 budget. Korean industry officials expect a request for proposals (RFP) to be issued in December or January for four Boeing 737/Airbus A320-size aircraft. A contract will be awarded one year after tender, with deliveries three years later.

The E-X programme office was reopened earlier this year and was to begin funding the programme in 2005 (Flight International, 20-26 May). Now, the bureau of planning and budgeting has decided to launch the programme a year earlier by including $1.5 million in seed money in its 2004 budget.

The ministry of national defence is confident president Roh Moo-huyn will approve the budget because the E-X programme has become a top defence priority of the new administration. AEW&C is a key component in South Korea's attempt to take over self-defence missions from its allies.

The programme was suspended in 2000 after the last of three RFPs was issued. In the last round, Boeing offered the 737 AEW&C, Raytheon the A321 and Thales the A320. Boeing and partner Northrop Grumman will offer the Boeing 737, considered the strong favourite. Thales and L-3, which has since purchased Raytheon's aircraft integrated systems unit, will make a decision on whether to participate after the RFP is released.

Seoul had entertained downsizing the requirement to a smaller platform, but defence officials say the capability it seeks cannot fit into a turboprop or regional jet.

Source: Flight International