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Chinook choppers bought from USFK workable through 2030: military

2017/09/20 15:20

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By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean military officials on Wednesday defended its purchase of more than a dozen 47-D Chinook helicopters from the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) in 2014 amid brewing controversy over the decision by the former Park Geun-hye administration.

The military bought 14 "outdated" Chinook choppers for a whopping 150 billion won (US$130 million), according to Rep. Lee Chul-hee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

He said the models are half a century old and it's even difficult to get new components.

The lawmaker claimed that then-Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, who later served as Park's national security advisor, was behind the incongruous use of taxpayers' money. Kim was apparently one of the most influential policymakers on national security affairs in the government of the ousted president.

An undated file photo of CH-47D Chinook helicoter operated by South Korea's military. (Yonhap) An undated file photo of CH-47D Chinook helicoter operated by South Korea's military. (Yonhap)

The program to acquire the second-hand CH-47Ds, the U.S. Army's heavy troop and supply transport aircraft originally fielded in the Vietnam War, started in 2013 at the offer of the USFK as part of its own asset modernization drive.

South Korea's military was seeking additional large-sized transport helicopters at that time.

"The helicopters we purchased from the USFK were produced between 1967 and 1980," a defense official told reporters in a background briefing.

The Korea Institute for Defense Analysis (KIDA), a think tank affiliated with the ministry of National Defense, concluded at that time that the acquisition of the choppers was "appropriate," he stressed.

In its latest related report in July, he added, the KIDA maintained its assessment that the choppers will likely be workable through 2030.

Another official refuted reports that the new parts of the choppers will soon be out of supply.

"In 2015, the U.S. informed us that the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program for the components will finish as of September 2018," he said. "But it will be possible to secure them through commercial purchase."

   The officials did not elaborate, asked about whether Kim influenced officials in charge of the chopper program.

They said the decision was made "normally" in consideration of budgets and the required operational capability (ROC).