Airbus is expected to offer its A330 in a competition to supply South Korea with aerial refueling tankers. (Airbus)
SEOUL — South Korea’s arms procurement agency will approve a plan to buy four aerial refueling tankers next month, according to a spokesman.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) allocated 6.9 billion won ($6.5 million) in next year’s budget to start the tanker project, the agency said on Thursday in a report to the National Assembly for parliamentary inspection.
“If approved, we will open a bid for the aerial tanker program next February,” DAPA spokesman Baek Yoon-hyung said. “Evaluations are scheduled proceed from March to May, with the goal of selecting a successful bidder by the end of next year.”
The South Korean Air Force wants to receive four tankers from 2017 to 2019.
The Airbus Military’s A330 and Boeing’s KC-46 are expected to compete for the contract, valued $940 million or more.
Seoul has long sought to fly aerial tankers to help extend the operational range of its fighter jets as part of efforts to respond to potential territorial disputes with neighboring countries.
“Now, our fighter fleet of F-15Ks and KF-16s are able to fly missions near the eastern most islets of Dokdo as a legacy of its imperial past, only for 30 minutes,” an Air Force officer said. “With mid-air refueling, however, the operational range and flight hours will be extended, along with an increase in strike distance.”
In a report to the assembly, meanwhile, the DAPA said it would try to seal a contract for acquiring 60 new fighter jets by the end of next year to replace the older fleet of F-4 and F-5 aircraft.
Last month, the DAPA’s top executive committee turned down the selection of Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle, which had been picked as the only candidate for the country’s $7.7 billion F-X III fighter contest, due to the lack of stealth capabilities.
Boeing’s offer was the only one found to be compliant with Seoul’s bidding rules and to stay within the due budget, while bids by Lockheed Martin and Eurofighter exceeded the budget.
“To help minimize the security vacuum caused by the delay in acquiring new jets, the DAPA will push for a rebid as soon as possible,” DAPA Commissioner Lee Yong-geol reported to the assembly.
“To shorten the bid process, we will not do evaluations and other procedures from the start,” he said. “Instead, we’ll utilize the data and results of previous evaluations of proposals by bidders as much as possible.”