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Seoul approves 4 in-flight tankers, picks drone bidders

The Seoul government on Monday approved a plan to purchase four aerial refueling tankers and picked preferred bidders to develop mid-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles, as part of efforts to better handle North Korea’s military threats.

The decision was made at a defense project consultation meeting presided by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.

Seoul has decided to purchase the in-flight tankers from overseas makers, and will begin its bidding in February 2014 and pick the winner in October of the same year, should there be no funding problems.

The government has sought to introduce the refueling aircraft between 2017 and 2019 to improve longer-duration operations. Airbus’ MRTTA330 and Boeing’s KC-46 have been mentioned as potential candidates for the acquisition program thought to cost more than 1 trillion won ($898 million).

The military has eyed refueling aircraft since the mid-1990s as its fighters can operate over vulnerable areas such as Dokdo for only half an hour. With refueling, combat aircraft could operate for another hour, officials noted.

For its project to develop homegrown mid-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles, the government conducted a feasibility study over the last four years.

After evaluating applicants in July, Seoul picked five preferred bidders to develop five major MUAV parts including communications systems, data links and radar systems. Once developed, the MUAVs would be deployed to monitor strategic targets in the North.

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