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Seoul to decide on aerial tanker bid Tuesday

South Korea is expected to pick the winner of its 1.4 trillion won ($1.25 billion) project to procure four in-flight refueling tankers at a session of the National Defense Acquisition Program Committee on Tuesday, a procurement official said Sunday.

“Included in the agenda for Tuesday’s session is the issue of determining the winner for the project,” an official at Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration said on condition of anonymity. “Unless anything else comes in at the last minute, a final decision will be made on that day.”

Three competitors -- Boeing’s KC-46, Airbus’ A330 MRTT and Israel Aerospace Industries’ B767 MMTT -- have been vying to win the project to deliver to South Korea two tankers in 2018 and another two the next year.

The competition is thought to have boiled down to a two-horse race between Boeing and Airbus, as the two took better positions in the contest than their Israeli competitor, which seeks to sell a tanker based on the secondhand 767 platform originally produced by Boeing.

The competition has been neck and neck. 

Airbus’ A330 MRTT boasts the ability to conduct a variety of missions including air-to-air refueling, the transport of passengers and military personnel and aerial medical evacuations. It can also carry larger amounts of fuel than its rivals.

The A330 MRTT is also an already developed tanker while the development of Boeing’s KC-46 is to be completed in 2017. Britain, Australia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and France have decided to purchase Airbus’ model.

Promoting its KC-46 tanker, a military derivative of the 767 aircraft, Boeing has stressed the importance of interoperability with the U.S. Air Force. Considering the U.S. Air Force is to procure 179 KC-46s by 2027, the KC-46 is the most desirable candidate for South Korea to ensure interoperability with its long-standing security ally, the U.S., Boeing argues.

The military has been eyeing a purchase of refueling aircraft since the mid-1990s, as its fighters can operate over vulnerable areas such as South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo for only half an hour. With refueling, combat aircraft could operate for another hour, defense officials said.

By Song Sang-ho (

Korea Herald daum