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S. Korea's standoff missile purchase project faces hurdles
By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) -- A U.S.-made air-to-ground missile South Korea has pushed to purchase in order to arm its main F-15K fighter jets does not fit the aircraft because of a design inconsistency with the missile, a senior procurement official said Monday.

   The finding is expected to delay South Korea's project to purchase a standoff missile system to be loaded with its fighter jets so as to bolster its airborne combat capabilities against North Korea.

   Lockheed Martin's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) with a 370-kilometer range has been considered a favorite, as the U.S. firm offered a cheaper price than its German competitor Taurus System's 500-km standoff missile.

   A recent test showed, however, that Lockheed's JASSM doesn't fit the F-15K, as its upper wing folds only to the left side. The Defense Acquisition and Procurement Administration (DAPA) has asked Boeing, the F-15K maker, and Lockheed Martin about ways to install the missile on the F-15K, but both have not responded, the official said.

   "To install the JASSMs in both wings of the F-15K, either F-15K's pylon or the JASSM's upper wing should be modified, but it would cost a lot," the official said.

   If JASSMs cannot be installed in both of the F-15K wings, he added, it could cause imbalance in the aircraft, which raises the risk of loss of control and crashing.

   While U.S. government has not given an answer for the request for the JASSM sale to Korea, the structural problem could further delay Seoul's plan to adopt the standoff missile system for the nation's fleet of 60 F-15K jets.

   "Even if the U.S. government approves the JASSM sale to South Korea, it would be difficult to buy it if these problems are not resolved," the official said.

   Another standoff missile by German defense contractor Taurus has a longer missile strike capability with a 500-km range, but it would need much more than the budget proposed by the government.

   "The DAPA has negotiated with Taurus officials until recently, but gaps remain over the price," the official said, without elaborating.

   ejkim@yna.co.kr
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