which the Korean military is hoping to purchase from Russia to support operations related to the transfer of wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea.
The South Korean military is pushing for its plan to buy 32 Kamov (KA-32) helicopters from Russia at a date earlier than anticipated to support landing and infiltration operations for marines ahead of the planned takeover of wartime operational control from the United States.
A military source said on June 16, “To cope with the retake of wartime operational control, the military recently allocated 930 billion won (US$894 million) to buy 32 helicopters for landing operations for the Marine Corps, by changing the project to an urgent demand from a long-term one.”
The budget was included in a mid-term defense plan set between 2009 and 2013. If the Defense Acquisition Program Administration announces the results of its feasibility study, the project to buy helicopters for the marines would start from 2013 and be completed by 2019, as opposed to the previous deadline of late 2020.
The aircrafts are expected to be deployed in Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships (Landing Platform Helicopter) or landing ships (Landing Ship Tank). In case of emergency, the helicopters are optimized to fly the marines through the sky to infiltrate enemy territory, allowing the Marine Corps to conduct landing operations both ashore and in mid-air. At present, the Marine Corps has no aircraft battalion and could exercise air-infiltration operations with the help of Army helicopters, so the project has been cited as the top priority for the Marine Corps.
Regarding the helicopter models to be used in the project, the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are moving to buy 32 Kamov KA-32 helicopters from Russia via a loan repayment program known as The Third Brown Bear Business. Since April, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been in negotiations with Russian after having placed the KA-32 model on top of its wish list of things to bring from Russia as part of the repayment program.
However, some military and defense industry officials oppose the deployment of Russian helicopters, saying it could pose a negative impact to another military plan to develop its own attack helicopters. They also say that it will cost a great deal to remodel the aircrafts because the KA-32 helicopters were developed to meet civilian aviation needs. An official at a defense technology company said, “In 2012, South Korea will start mass production of the Korean-style utility helicopter. If foreign helicopters were deployed, it would cost some 1 trillion won in lost sales.”
In order to develop devices that are protected against salt-induced erosion, and remodel them into foldup helicopters that can be carried by the Dokdo-class assault ships, a significant amount of time and money would be needed. The Korea Forest Service and an Air Force battalion, both of which have already used the KA-32 choppers, were believed to have conveyed the opinion that the “KA-32 costs two or three times more in terms of maintenance than helicopters from Western countries because of its short replacement cycle for parts and high fuel consumption level.”
Another worrisome issue is that it may be difficult to identify an enemy combatant during joint operations between South Korean and U.S. forces because North Korea also owns the Russian helicopters.
In response, a military official said, “The introduction of the KA-32 is an issue under consultation with Russia. It has not been given final confirmation.”
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