U.S. begins consultation with Congress for selling drones to South Korea
Published : Sep 1, 2011 - 20:36
Updated : Sep 1, 2011 - 20:36
By Song Sang-ho
The Obama administration is consulting with the U.S. Congress on plans to sell to South Korea Global Hawk surveillance planes and related ground facilities, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing two sources.
South Korea has been seeking to purchase the high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle as part of efforts to bolster its defense capabilities following the two attacks by North Korea that killed 50 South Koreans last year.
“Among those briefed have been the Senate’s and House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committees, which have jurisdiction over arms sales, the people familiar with the matter said,” the report said.
“There was no immediate word on when formal notification of a proposed sale might take place, nor on the potential overall value.”
Citing Gemma Loochkartt, a spokesperson for Northrop Grumman, which manufactures the high-flying, long-endurance platform, the report said that deliveries could take place in 2014 and 2015 if a government-level deal is signed this year.
In December 2009, Seoul sent to the U.S. an official document to express its intent to purchase the drones. Although nearly two years have passed, the U.S. has yet to send Seoul the letter of agreement, a document to show its willingness to sell the drones, officials said.
“The U.S. has yet to send us the LOA as it has not yet gained parliamentary approval. It has said that it would send it to us sometime in November. But we never know whether they would actually send it by that time,” an official at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration told The Korea Herald, declining to be named.
“The drone is a military product, on which the U.S. has a trade restriction. Nothing can proceed unless an approval from the U.S. Congress is given for the sale.”
Reuters also reported that Northrop Grumman said Seoul is considering four Global Hawk “Block 30” as well as related ground stations. The DAPA official refused to comment on that, citing military security policies.
“We could know how many we will purchase when we begin negotiations with the U.S. But because of the exorbitant price increase, we do not even know whether to buy them or not,” the official said.
Given the long-standing military alliance between South Korea and the U.S., some experts said that the U.S. Congress might give a go-ahead for Seoul to purchase the strategic military system.
But as the U.S. has never sold the drone to countries that have shown interest in it, it remains to be seen whether Seoul can acquire the surveillance drone. Japan, Australia and Singapore have expressed interest in purchasing it.
Seoul has sought to secure the Global Hawk drone since 2005. Military officials believe the drone is necessary for the South Korean military to independently carry out surveillance operations considering that Seoul is to retake wartime operational control from Washington in December 2015.
The single-engine Global Hawk can fly at an altitude of 18 kilometers or higher for more than 30 hours. With an operational range of 3,000 kilometers, it is known to be capable of covering not only the whole North Korean region, but also parts of China and other neighboring countries. It is reported to cost $45 million per unit.