“I said that if the price is that high, the value of the intelligence that can be gathered by it will not be worth (the price). We will open a bidding process. There is no other way to protect national interests than the open competition.”
The Washington government leading the Foreign Military Sales program has reportedly doubled its initial price for four of the unmanned aircraft to about 1 trillion won ($889 million).
“There are many other planes such as (AeroVironment’s) Global Observer. It is better in some parts. There is also (Boeing’s) Phantom Eye. If we carry out the acquisition project in a competitive manner, lower prices are possible,” he said.
Seoul has sought to deploy four Global Hawk aircraft by 2015 with a budget of 450 billion won ($398.9 million). But the asking price jumped due to decreased demand for the plane caused by the reduced U.S. defense budget.
The Seoul government believes the high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft is crucial to keeping tabs on North Korean movements, particularly after it takes wartime operational control from Washington in December 2015.
South Korea’s military originally set aside around 200 billion won to buy four units in 2007. But the U.S. reportedly asked for 486.2 billion won in September 2009 and raised the price to 940 billion won in July this year.
The single-engine Global Hawk can fly at an altitude of 18 kilometers or higher for 36 hours. With an operational range of 3,000 kilometers, it is capable of covering not only the whole of North Korea but also parts of China and other neighboring countries.
Global Observer with a liquid hydrogen-powered propulsion system can fly at stratospheric altitude for about a week. The Phantom Eye is a hydrogen-powered high-altitude long-endurance aircraft, which can fly at an altitude of 65,000 feet for up to four days.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)