Gen. Kim Kwan-jin, left, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), shakes hands with his U.S. counterpart Adm. Michael Mullen, before the Military Committee Meeting (MCM) at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, Tuesday. / Korea Times
By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea will seek purchase of the high-flying Global Hawk unmanned spy plane from the United States during the annual meeting of defense ministers to be held today in Seoul, Defense Ministry officials said Tuesday.
Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates will discuss a range of issues of mutual concern including the roadmap for the transfer of operational control of the Korean forces during wartime from the United States to South Korea in 2012 during the 39th Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), they said.
Seoul has sought to purchase four Global Hawks by 2011 as part of efforts to build up its independent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The plan has been stalled, however, as overseas sales of the aircraft are prohibited under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The MTCR is a voluntary association of countries that share the goal of non-proliferation of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.
``The sale of the Global Hawk is not included in the official agenda. But the two sides are expected to deal with the issue as part of efforts to strengthen bilateral ties and cooperation in the defense industry,'' ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-ki said.
The Global Hawk is capable of surveying vast areas with near pinpoint accuracy from as high as 65,000 feet for up to 35 hours. Per-unit price is $45-60 million.
He said arms procurement officials from the two sides are also expected to discuss a plan to upgrade South Korea's U.S. foreign military sale (FMS) status.
Seoul is in the third FMS group alongside Egypt, the Philippines and Thailand, so that it is required to spend more money and time buying U.S. weapons systems than NATO member countries and FMS-favored nations _ Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
Early this year, Kim and Gates agreed on a set of command rearrangement plans focused on increasing South Korea's independent defense capabilities through the transference of wartime operational control of the Korean military from the U.S. military to Korean commanders.
The transition is to take effect in April 17, 2012. South Korea and the United States will run separate military commands after disbanding the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command. The U.S. military is shifting to an air and naval-centric supporting role.
High on the agenda include the relocation of U.S. bases to south of Seoul and changes in the roles and missions of the United Nations Command in tandem with the command transfer.
The two defense ministers are scheduled to hold a joint press conference regarding the results of their talks later today.