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S Korea to expedite deployment of spy drones, stealth fighters

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The Global Hawk UAV South Korea plans to buy from the US.

SEOUL (BNS): South Korea Tuesday said it will expedite the process of acquiring new spy drones and advanced stealth fighters, majority of them from the US, and deploy them at an earlier date than previously scheduled to counter the North’s offensive.

"We will swiftly acquire high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance planes and fighter jets with stealth capability to significantly improve our air power and boost surveillance capability against the enemy," the country's Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin was quoted as saying by the official Yonhap news agency.

South Korea has eyed the US-made RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to boost its surveillance strength.

It had asked the US last year to sell the drone systems to it and expects to receive final approval from the US Defence Department in this regard in June, a military source told the news agency.

"If the US side responds favourably to our letter by June, we expect to sign a preliminary contract on the purchase of the Global Hawks by the end of this year," the source said.

The country had originally planned to deploy the Global Hawk UAVs in 2015.

Besides the new drones, the planned acquisition of 60 advanced stealth fighters will also be speeded up. The South Korean Air Force, which will acquire the new fighters under the third phase of the F-X project, will deploy them before the original schedule of 2015, a military source said.

Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon of Europe are expected to compete for the order estimated at 10 trillion won, the news agency reported.

Since 2002, the country has already acquired 60 F-15 fighters from the US under the first two stages of the fighter modernisation programme, dubbed F-X.

The new acquisition programmes are among the 73-point defence reform measures drawn up by the South's defence ministry, defence minister Kwan-jin said.

The move has come after North Korea’s provocative acts in the recent past that has resulted in simmering tensions between the two neighbours.

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