South Korea showed its determination Wednesday (July 18) to procure Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) despite Washington's reluctance to sell the high-altitude surveillance plane, which the United States fears could trigger an arms race in Northeast Asia because of its extended coverage.
The U.S. says that the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) should be revised first, noting the UAV, which can deliver weapons of mass destruction, is considered a Category I system or technology of greatest sensitivity under the MTCR.
Announcing a 2008-12 national defense plan, the Defense Ministry said it aims to initiate the program of acquiring four Global Hawk UAVs next year.
The mid-term plan, estimated to cost 164 trillion won ($178 billion) in total budget, focuses on enhancing independent intelligence-gathering capability ahead of the assumption of wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops from the U.S. on April 17, 2012.
"The plan to buy four Global Hawks is still alive," a ministry official said. "We have already earmarked some initial budget funds for the project."
But it is uncertain whether South Korea will be able to obtain the Global Hawks, priced around $50 million each.
The Defense Ministry also said it has asked for a 9.9 percent increase in next year's defense spending to cover military upgrades, development of new weapons, better maintenance of fighter jets and improved benefits for soldiers.
The total defense budget will rise to 24.5 trillion won ($26.6 billion) in 2008, up 9.9 percent from a year earlier.
The spending for arms development or procurement will increase by 17.3 percent to 6.7 trillion won.
"In line with the modernization of the weapon system, the military will cut more than 30,000 troops from 2008 to 2012," the official said.
South Korea is pushing the Defense Reform 2020 campaign in which its 680,000 troops will be scaled down to 500,000 by 2020 in connection with the introduction of cutting-edge weaponry.