The right stuff
The government made the right decision by choosing the Airbus A330 MRTT as our Air Force’s aerial refuelling tanker aircraft.
First of all, the introduction of the tanker aircraft from Europe will help dramatically enhance our Air Force’s combat capability. Our mainstay fighter jet F-15K was able to fly for 30 minutes at the maximum over the Dokdo islets on the East Sea - and for 20 minutes over the Ieodo islet on the South Sea - after taking off from Daegu Air Base. That limited flight duration could make real aerial operations impossible. If our military aircraft can receive fuel in mid air, however, their operation time is extended to more than 90 minutes over Dokdo and about 80 minutes over Ieodo.
To gain this remarkable lifting of operational capability, the Netherlands, Singapore, Peru and Malaysia all possess aerial refuelling tanker aircraft to maximize their air force’s combat capability. If our fighter jets can be used with the refueling tank aircraft, they can load more weapons in the place of fuel needed for flights.
The government’s decision to purchase military aircraft from Europe carries great significance as it contributes to the diversification of our Air Force’s weapons systems, not to mention a rational choice in terms of the performance and price competitiveness. In fact, it is the first time for Korea to pick European aircraft instead of American aircraft in its decades-long strategic arms procurements. So far, the issue of “interoperability” dominated on the logic that U.S. arms will reinforce the efficiency of joint military operations between Korea and the United States. As a result, our government had to shy away from European weapons that were cheaper than their U.S. counterparts yet boasted similar performances.
A330 MRTT is a tested military aircraft deployed in ten countries in Europe and the Middle East or to be deployed in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, Boeing’s KC-46A is still being developed and has less refueling capacity due to its smaller fuselage. The plunge of the euro and the rise of the greenback also helped our government choose.
Our military procurement projects have lost public trust after a former Navy chief of staff and head of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs were involved in corruption scandals. The Air Force plans to purchase a total of four aerial refuelling tanker aircraft with a budget of 1.4 trillion won ($1.25 billion) by 2019. The military must restore the people’s trust by establishing a new standard of rationality and transparency.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 1, Page 30