South Korea buying Apache helicopters to counter North Korea’s armor
TOKYO — South Korea plans to purchase 36 AH-64E Apache helicopters to bolster its defense against North Korea, defense officials said Wednesday.
The purchase of the advanced attack helicopters will begin sometime during the first half of 2016 and continue through early 2017, a Republic of Korea defense ministry official said on condition of anonymity, which is customary in South Korea.
“We are doing this because of preparation for North Korean armored troops and armored fighting power,” the official told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.
The official denied reports that the helicopters would definitely be deployed on South Korea’s northwestern border islands, an area of tensions with North Korea. However, the islands remain an option, he said.
In 2010, the North shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing two soldiers and two civilians. The islands, some of which are popular with tourists, are also viewed as a potential infiltration point for North Korean operatives.
Chang Myoung-jin, head of South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration, attended the release ceremony of the AH-64E, along with more than 50 South Korean officials at a Boeing plant in Mesa, Ariz., on Monday.
The new Apache helicopter, nicknamed Guardian, is the latest version of a mainstay of U.S. Army operations.
“The (AH-64E) will be contributing a lot to strengthen our military’s fighting power by filling the gap caused by the deterioration of attack helicopters we’ve been using, such as the MD 500 (Defender),” DAPA official Paek Jun-hyung said in a statement.
The Apache is capable of all-weather operations and can equip a variety of armament made for air and ground attacks, the statement said.
The U.S. flew the AH-64E variant for the first time in combat operations in Afghanistan last year, according to military.com. The U.S. Apache fleet has flown more than 3.9 million cumulative hours since the Army first received them in 1984, Boeing said.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report from Seoul.