December 26, 2012 - 09:17 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The Obama administration formally proposed a controversial sale of advanced spy drones to help South Korea bear more of its defense from any attack by the heavily armed North, according to Reuters.
Seoul has requested a possible $1.2 billion sale of four Northrop Grumman Corp RQ-4 "Global Hawk" remotely piloted aircraft with enhanced surveillance capabilities, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement dated on Monday and distributed on Tuesday.
South Korea needs such systems to assume top responsibility for intelligence-gathering from the U.S.-led Combined Forces Command as scheduled in 2015, the security agency said in releasing a notice to U.S. lawmakers.
"The proposed sale of the RQ-4 will maintain adequate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and will ensure the alliance is able to monitor and deter regional threats in 2015 and beyond," the notice said.
Seoul has shown interest in the high-altitude, long-endurance Global Hawk platform for at least four years. The system, akin to Lockheed Martin Corp's U-2 spy plane, may be optimized to scan large areas for stationary and moving targets by day or night and despite cloud cover.
It transmits imagery and other data from 60,000 feet at near real-time speed, using electro-optical, infrared and radar-imaging sensors built by Raytheon Co.
The possible sale has been held up by discussions involving price, aircraft configuration and a go-slow on release of such technology subject to a voluntary 34-nation arms control pact.
The Defense Department began informally consulting Congress on the possible Global Hawk sale in the summer of 2011, only to withdraw it pending further work on the make-up of the proposed export to Seoul amid lawmakers' arms-control concerns.
The formal notification to Congress came less than two weeks after a North Korean space launch of a satellite atop a multi-stage rocket, a first for the reclusive state, widely seen as advancing its ballistic missile program.
South Korea's possible Global Hawk purchase would mark the system's first sale in the Asia-Pacific region. It has already been sold to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).