South Korea on Wednesday selected Boeing’s AH-64E Apache Guardian for a 1.8 trillion won ($1.6 billion) procurement project amid escalating military threats posed by North Korea, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said.
The new fleet of advanced attack helicopters would play a crucial role in countering possible North Korean amphibious infiltrations into western border islands and other possible attacks.
Seoul plans to deploy them between 2016 and 2018.
Boeing’s Apache beat U.S. firm Bell’s AH-1Z and Turkish Aerospace Industries’ T-129 in the high-profile deal to provide 36 heavily armed helicopters to the South Korean military.
|Boeing’s AH-64D (DAPA)|
“We can beef up our military strength that might be weakening due to the aging helicopters, and this new helicopter fleet will help handle the threat posed by North Korea’s mechanized forces and possible provocations such as maritime infiltrations,” the DAPA said in a statement.
“As from North Korea’s standpoint the new helicopters would be perceived as asymmetric weapons, they would become a core part of deterrence assets (for South Korea).”
As the AH-64E is big in size and equipped with many high-tech weapons systems, the sustainment cost is expected to be higher, compared with the 500MD and AH-1S attack helicopters South Korea currently runs, the DAPA added.
With a cruising speed of 261 kilometers per hour, the 17.7-meter-long helicopter, which was formerly known as AH-64D Block III, features a fuel-efficient twin engine, capabilities to turn faster and tighter in high-altitude operations, improved handling and performance, and sensor enhancements.
It can carry 16 air-to-ground precision anti-armor Hellfire missiles, 76 70-mm rockets and a 30-mm machine gun that can shoot some 200 rounds.
The U.S. Army reportedly plans to purchase around 690 AH-64Es to replace its existing AH-64 Longbow fleet.
Seoul has been striving to bolster its military capabilities to neutralize North Korea’s asymmetric weapons systems including its special operations forces.
In Goampo, Hwanghae Province, the North has built a unit to house some 60 hovercrafts whose infiltrations operations could be countered by the attack helicopters. The communist state is known to have some 130 hovercrafts that can travel through mudflats into the border islands at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour.
The Army first made the procurement request in 2008. In January last year, the DAPA put on public notice its procurement plan for potential bidders.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org