By Kang Seung-woo
The Ministry of National Defense has decided to purchase 20 anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft from 2018 to beef up the Navy's surveillance capabilities of North Korea's submarines.
Currently, an aging squadron of 16 P-3C Orions, developed by Lockheed Martin, is operational in the Navy after being introduced to Korea in 1995.
"The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is currently working on a plan that is likely to be an overseas purchase program," an unidentified source told Yonhap News, Sunday.
The budget for the procurement of new surveillance aircraft is estimated at around 1 trillion won ($900 million), and Airbus Military's C-295 MPA, Boeing's P-8 Poseidon and the SC-130J Sea Hercules, Lockheed Martin's other coastal surveillance and anti-submarine warfare plane, are seen as possible replacements.
The U.S. Navy has recently received the seventh production of the P-8 Poseidon to replace the P-3Cs, while Japan has a fleet of 100 P-3Cs.
The P-3C is capable of carrying out various operations in anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare and is armed with Harpoon Block II air-to-ground missiles and a tactical information system interoperable with the KF-16 fighter jet.
Along with the deployment of the new anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the military is going through improving the performance of the P-3Cs.
In March, DAPA signed with Korean Air to upgrade the aging aircraft's radar and censor systems by 2016.
The military's approval comes as part of countermeasures as South Korea has seen its northern neighbor ratcheting up tensions on the Korean Peninsula including the tensely-guarded western sea.
The North boasts a large fleet of submarines, one of which sank the South Korean warship Cheonan with a torpedo off the west coast on March 26 2010, claiming 46 sailors.
The North also shelled a South Korean border island later that year, killing four people.