The military will purchase 40 new helicopters by 2023 to strengthen the Marine Corps’ amphibious landing capabilities, a ruling party lawmaker said Tuesday.
Citing a parliamentary inspection report from the military, Rep. Chung Mi-kyung of the Grand National Party said that the helicopters specializing in amphibious landing missions will be deployed with a budget of 560 billion won ($465 million).
The move comes as calls have persisted to strengthen the Marine Corps in charge of protecting the five northwestern border islands from continuing North Korean military threats.
The belligerent communist state shelled Yeonpyeongdo, one of the frontline islands in the West Sea last November, killing two marines and two civilians. The attack came just eight months after the North torpedoed the corvette Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
Two of the helicopters will be first deployed in 2016, she said. Each carries a price tag of 14 billion won.
The Navy and the Marine Corps reportedly differ over which side should possess the new helicopters. The Marine Corps is attached to the Navy in South Korea’s military.
The marines hope to create a marine aviation unit to run the 40 helicopters. They currently have 15 helicopter pilots and plan to gradually increase the number to operate the new helicopters.
However, the Navy wants to have the new helicopters under its control and lend them to the marines when they need them.
The Navy claims that its budget to maintain the new helicopters will be about half the marines’ budget, as it already has storage facilities and other equipment to run the aircraft. It anticipates that the marine budget will reach around 43 billion won.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com