SEOUL --- South Korea has mobilized four of its latest maritime helicopters in a drill aimed at containing North Korean submarines and surface vessel threats, the Navy said Wednesday.
"The new choppers will greatly enhance the Navy's capabilities to detect North Korean submarines equipped with submarine launched ballistic missiles," a Navy official said. The maritime exercise begins on the day around Geoje Island, off South Korea's southeastern coast.
The four rotary aircrafts are part of eight AugustaWestland's AW-159 Wildcat choppers that were delivered to the Navy last year as part of the military's broader plan to add a total of 20 new maritime choppers to its fleet by 2022.
The remaining four are to be employed for mock training drills from July after undergoing training and testing programs for pilots and engineers, it said.
AW-159 choppers are equipped with the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and sonar to detect submarines, plus they can be armed with anti-ship guided weapons, torpedoes and guns. The high-tech radar has a range of up to 360 kilometers.
Maritime choppers such as AW-159 and Lynx are capable of carrying out a joint operation with surface vessels and the P-3 maritime patrol aircraft to detect enemy submarines, according to the Navy.
The military plans to invest about 900 billion won (US$768 million) to purchase 12 additional maritime choppers for future service in the Navy. The three models being considered are the Wildcats, Sikorsky's MH-60R, and NHIndustries' NH-90.
It plans to sign a deal with one of the three chopper companies by the end of 2018 and the new choppers will be gradually deployed from 2020 through 2022, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said.