SEOUL — South Korea will deploy four aerial refueling tankers between 2017 and 2019 as part of efforts to extend the operational range of its fighter jets, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).
The agency approved a plan Aug. 12 to buy four foreign refueling tankers for the air force’s fleet of F-15Ks and KF-16s.
“Bids are invited for the acquisition of refueling tankers next February, and the successful bidder is to be announced by October after evaluations of price and performance,” said DAPA spokesman Baek Yoon-hyung.
“When deployed in the field, the flight hour of our fighter aircraft will be able to increase by an average of one hour, which means our jets could fly long-range patrol mission more effectively over the islets of Dokdo and the Ieodo islet,” he said.
Located roughly halfway between South Korea and Japan in the East Sea of Korea, the rocky islets of Dokdo have been at the center of a long-running row between the two countries.
The issue of sovereignty over Ieodo, a submerged rock in the East China Sea, between South Korea and China, also has become more volatile.
With air-to-air refueling, a KF-16 can fly a mission for about 70 minutes and an F-15K is expected to conduct operation for about 90 minutes, according to Air Force officials.
The DAPA declined to elaborate the budget scale of the air refueling tanker procurement, but informed industry sources noted that the project is estimated to cost over 1.5 trillion won (US $1.3 billion).
Potential candidates include the Airbus Military’s MRTT A330 and Boeing’s KC-46.