S. Korea to get first early warning plane

March 1, 2011 at 6:13 AM
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SEOUL, March 1 (UPI) -- South Korea will take delivery of its first of a new batch of early warning aircraft in July, officials in Seoul say.

"The first 737 airborne early warning and control aircraft is in development test and evaluation after its first tests were complete successfully last June," a procurement official was quoted saying to Defense News.

"Type test and evaluation is scheduled to begin in March before a Korean operation utility demonstration slated for Monday."

The aircraft are being manufactured by Boeing. The first plane is presently being prepared in the United States; the rest remain at the Korean Aerospace Industries in Sacheon, about 300 miles southeast of Seoul.

Details of the planned delivery surfaced as South Korea announced plans to press ahead with joint military exercises with the United States despite threats from North Korea. More than 12,000 U.S. troops are taking part in the drill, alongside 200,000 South Korean soldiers.

The exercise, including live drills and computer simulated war games, is expected to run for 11 days beginning this week.

South Korea and the United States stage regular exercises with their combined forces. The recent drill, though, comes amid heightened tension with North Korea.

Both Seoul and Washington have invited media to cover several of the drills scheduled for the coming weeks, including when railroads are used to move weapons and the air landing of troop reinforcements from other countries, The Wall Street Journal reported.

On the eve of the drill's start, North Korea issued nine statements, saying the United States and South Korea were using the exercise "to stage a pre-emptive nuclear attack" on North Korea.

An estimated 28,500 U.S. troops are based in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

Although the Korean War ended in 1953, the countries haven't signed a peace agreement, remaining divided by one of the world's most fortified borders.

Relations between North and South have soured since North Korea's suspected sinking of a South Korean war ship and Pyongyang's artillery shelling of a South Korean island.

Military analysts say the procurement of surveillance aircraft is central to South Korea's pursuit of achieving independent intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance capability as U.S. troops prepared to hand over operation control prepare in 2015.

The Boeing aircraft early warning aircraft that South Korea has purchased can fly at 41,000 feet and have a top speed of 340 knots. The planes have six common console stations for the crew and "boasts of its commonality with commercial airline fleets for flexibility and support," Defense News reported.

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