South Korea on Wednesday selected Boeing’s AH-64E Apache Guardian to replace its aging Army helicopters, the Defense Acquisition Procurement Administration (DAPA) said.
Under the 1.8 trillion won (US$1.6 billion) contract, U.S. firm Boeing will supply 36 Apache Guardians for Army battalions by 2018, along with training and logistical support, DAPA said.
Boeing’s Apache competed with the American firm Bell’s AH-1Z Cobra and the Turkish Aerospace Industry’s T-129B. The South Korean Army first made the procurement request in 2008.
“The heavily-armed attack helicopters will replace aging helicopters deployed by the Army to counter threats by North Korean military’s armored units and deter provocations,” Baek Yoon-hyeong, DAPA spokesman, said in a briefing.
The four-blade, twin-engine attack helicopter, known as the “tank killer”, is armed with a 30-millimeter M230 Chain Gun, and can carry a mixture of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rocket pods.
The announcement came as Seoul awaits Pentagon’s approval for an additional attack-reconnaissance squadron as South Korean seeks to improve its combat capability before regaining wartime operational control from Washington in December 2015.
In June 2012, Gen. James Thurman, the commander of Combined Forces Command, asked the U.S. government to provide more military support to South Korea, including a plan to deploy 24 additional Apache attack helicopters here. During a January visit to Seoul, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno said his government will make a decision soon.
On Wednesday, the DAPA also picked Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) as the preferred bidder to build helicopters for the Marine Corps’ landing maneuver operations.
KAI is South Korea’s sole aircraft maker which developed the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH) called Surion.
Under the deal, KAI will make the Marine Corps model KUH and deliver a total of 40 helicopters to them by 2023, the DAPA said.
The Marine Corps has long sought to have its own choppers, but the plan has been delayed due to budgetary constraints. The procurement request took on new urgency after North Korea launched two deadly provocations in the tensely guarded western sea in 2010, killing a total of 50 South Koreans.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff last year approved the Marine’s request to buy helicopters for their landing operations in border islands, which face heavily-armed North Korean forces just across the maritime border.
The Surion utility helicopter made its maiden flight in March 2010, and entered full-scale production in 2012. About 200 Surions have been ordered to replace aging military helicopters in the next few years.