Tuesday, August 4, 2009

US May Withdraw More Apache Helos From Korea by 2012

The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is considering pulling its remaining battalion of Apache attack helicopters out of South Korea by 2012, when operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops during wartime is transferred from the U.S. military to South Korean commanders, according to an American industry official. The comment was made by the official at Lockheed Martin, which was organizing a media tour for Korean journalists in mid-July, sources here said Sunday.``The official privy to U.S. military affairs made the comment during a briefing on his firm's helicopter armament,'' a source said on condition of anonymity. ``He was quite confident about the information.''A U.S. military source in Seoul questioned the credibility of the official's comment but agreed at the same time that USFK delployments could be changed in a flexible manner, in accordance with evolving security conditions.The remark, in particular, came at a sensitive time when the Seoul government was reconsidering purchasing second-hand U.S. Apache helicopters, as relevant conditions regarding spare parts supply and systems integration were not met.Earlier, Seoul had positively considered buying 36 refurbished Apache helicopters from the U.S. government in a bid to boost the Army's independent anti-tank and fire support capabilities, as well as fill an operational gap following the relocation of one of the two USFK Apache battalions in March for rotational deployment to Afghanistan.The USFK now maintains a battalion of 24 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters. The AH-64D Apache Longbow is an all-weather, day-night military attack helicopter. Its armament includes a 30mm M230 Chain Gun, AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and Hydra 70 laser-guided rockets.The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is conducting a comprehensive feasibility study on introducing advanced attack helicopters to replace the Army's aging 500MD TOW and AH-1S helicopters. A DAPA spokesman said the agency was studying all options on the table, including purchasing older Apaches, ordering new foreign attack helicopters and building an indigenous model. On July 31, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), South Korea's only aircraft maker, unveiled the first prototype of the indigenous Surion utility helicopter built with technical assistance from Eurocopter.KAI hopes that it will develop the Surion into a helicopter gunship or use accrued technologies in building a heavy attack helicopter in partnership with foreign manufacturers.

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