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Seoul may cancel Global Hawk purchase

U.S. surveillance planes cost almost five times the amount first budgeted for


South Korea is seriously considering halting its plan to purchase Global Hawk surveillance planes as their price has more than doubled, a local daily reported Monday.

Seoul has sought to deploy four of the high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles by 2015 with a budget of 450 billion won ($379 million). But the asking price jumped due to decreased demand for the plane caused by the reduced U.S. defense budget.

The Seoul government believes the high-flying, long-endurance aircraft is crucial to keeping tabs on North Korean movements after it takes wartime operational control from the U.S. in December 2015.

“The U.S. recently offered around 940 billion won, a price that is more than double the initial price. We cannot introduce Global Hawks unless the U.S. side slashes the price,” a senior government official was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo.

South Korea’s military originally set aside around 200 billion won to buy four units in 2007. But the U.S. asked for 486.2 billion won in September 2009 and raised the price to 940 billion won two years later in July this year.

Some critics here raised the possibility that the U.S. might have marked up the price as South Korea looks desperate to purchase such a high-performance surveillance platform, which it will need after the OPCON transfer.

The single-engine Global Hawk, produced by Northrop Grumman, can fly at an altitude of 18 kilometers or higher for 36 hours. With an operational range of 3,000 kilometers, it is known to be capable of covering not only the whole North Korean region but also parts of China and other neighboring countries.

The Global Hawk can fly for a longer time than the U-2 aircraft run by the U.S. Forces Korea. Some observers said that the USFK’s U-2 aircraft could be decommissioned sometime after 2012.

Rep. Kim Jang-soo of the ruling Grand National Party said that there should be a bidding competition for the aircraft project rather than sticking to only one type of plane.

“We should turn to a competitive system as the Global Observer (designed by AeroVironment of the U.S.) is cheaper than the Global Hawk,” he said in a document for the parliamentary inspection.

As the development of the Global Observer has yet to be finished, the military is said to be also considering purchasing mid-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles which are developed domestically.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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