$878M Seahawk chopper deal will please Trump, Biden
South Korea selected U.S. arms maker Lockheed Martin’s Seahawk chopper to expand its fleet of maritime attack helicopters, the country’s military procurement agency announced Tuesday.
A total of 12 MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopters will be purchased from Sikorsky Aircraft, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, at a cost of $878 million, said the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).
According to DAPA, the Seahawk choppers will arrive in Korea in 2025.
The helicopters are to be purchased as part of the second phase of a program to expand the Navy’s surveillance and offensive capabilities against hostile ships and submarines near South Korean waters.
The South Korean military launched this program in 2010, following the sinking of its Cheonan warship by a torpedo shot from a North Korean submarine. The attack, which Pyongyang denies, exposed vulnerabilities of the South Korean military.
The Seahawk, based on the U.S. Army’s famed UH-60 Black Hawk chopper, is designed for a variety of maritime combat operations against submarines and ships, but can also be deployed for search and rescue or evacuation missions.
The chopper measures around 19.7 meters (64.6 feet) wide and 5.2 meters tall, and can fly at a maximum speed of 267 kilometers per hour (166 miles per hour). Equipped with modern antisubmarine technology like sonobuoys and dipping sonars, the aircraft can target hostile ships through torpedoes and air-to-ship guided missiles installed on board.
While its large size and carrying capacity for arms was deemed superior to its competitors, the Seahawk’s expensive price initially made it less attractive.
Budgetary concerns were why the AW-159 Wildcat, made by Italian firm Leonardo Helicopters, was chosen for the Navy’s first batch of maritime attack helicopters in 2013. Eight Wildcats have been delivered and are in use by the South Korean Navy.
Seoul’s decision to introduce the Seahawk for the second phase of its chopper project may partly have been influenced by pressure from outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump, who throughout his presidency has complained of South Korea’s insufficient financial commitments to the alliance.
In a South Korea-U.S. summit at the White House in April 2019, Trump told the press that Seoul had agreed to buy in bulk U.S.-manufactured military equipment.
A month before the summit, the South Korean military’s Defense Project Promotion Committee had shortlisted the Seahawk, British-made Wildcat and European built NH-90 among finalists for the maritime operations helicopter project.
Trump exhorted South Korean President Moon Jae-in in another summit in New York that September to purchase U.S.-made arms. Though he did not detail a specific amount or type of weapon, Moon at the meeting announced a three-year plan to purchase American armaments while stressing the strength of the bilateral military alliance.
“Moon is likely to have informed Trump about plans to buy U.S. arms in their earlier meeting,” said Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong University.
“The incoming Biden government also wants to promote the sale of U.S. products, so [the Seahawk purchase] is likely to have a positive impact on the future Korea-U.S. relationship," Park added.
Underscoring the win for the American defense industry, DAPA further announced several more procurement decisions involving U.S.-made military equipment. U.S. arms maker Boeing will take charge of a 300 billion won ($275 million) project to upgrade the jamming and communications systems on South Korea’s F-15K fighter aircraft until 2026, the agency said.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, PARK YONG-HAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]