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U.S. offers 20 retiring choppers to S. Korea

The U.S. Third Marine Amphibious Corps has offered to provide the South Korean Marine Corps with 20 transport helicopters.

According to the Ministry of National Defense, the Okinawa-based U.S. Marine Corps unit has offered to transfer the ownership of 20 CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopters that are to be decommissioned.

“We have not been able to confirm whether the U.S. Department of Defense shares the position. At present it is a development between the commander of the Third Marine Amphibious Corps, and a Korean Marines Corps division commander,” a Ministry of National Defense public relations official said.

“If the Department of Defense is on board for the transfer, it will then be discussed by the Ministry of National Defense.”

The CH-46 helicopters offered by the U.S. unit were produced in the early 1970s and underwent a fuselage refurbishment in the 1990s. The aircraft are being decommissioned as the U.S. military replaces the old model with the new V-22.

The U.S. unit is said to have made the offer in consideration of the cost of transporting the aircraft back to the U.S., and of the need to improve the Korean Marine Corps mobility. At present the Korean Marine Corps has no helicopters in its arsenal. All air maneuvers are carried out with the support of the Navy.

Although the helicopters will improve the Marine Corps mobility, they need to be modified to suit the needs of the Korean forces and require maintenance work at significant cost.

The Defense Ministry has a program under way to incorporate 16 attack helicopters and 40 transport helicopters into the marines’ arsenal, but the plan has been stalled due to disagreements between the Navy and the Marine Corps.

While such aircraft are considered crucial to the operations of the Marine Corps, the Navy has been arguing that it should be in charge of such equipment as the Navy already has an aviation unit.

The Marine Corps, however, says that as the Navy’s aviation unit is about 2 hours distant from Baengnyeong Island, one of the five islands in the northern regions of the West Sea, it should have the helicopters to ensure maximum efficiency. The island is guarded by marines.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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