14 Maret 2011

S. Korea to Launch Marine Aviation Unit

14 Maret 2011

MD 500 - light strike helicopter, used by the Republic of Korea Army (photo : Militaryphotos)

SEOUL - South Korea plans to create an elite Marine aviation unit equipped with scores of helicopters in a bid to bolster its forces near the tense sea border with North Korea, an official said March 13.

"We have 11 helicopter pilots to aid the Marine Corps' operations, but now we are trying to make it bigger to create a whole aviation squadron," South Korea's defense ministry spokesman said, not elaborating further.

Yonhap news agency said the unit for elite commandos will feature about 40 helicopters and begin operations in 2017 or 2018, citing a Seoul military source.

"We plan to equip our locally developed Surion helicopters with weapons to deploy them to the Marine Corps," Yonhap quoted an official of Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying.

The South Korean military is seeking to boost its number of Marines, currently at 27,000, by several thousand as part of a plan to beef up forces along its sea border with the North.

Cross-border ties collapsed after Pyongyang's alleged sinking of a Seoul warship that killed 46 sailors in March 2010 on the Yellow Sea, a scene of deadly inter-Korea naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.
Tensions were further heightened by the North's shelling of a nearby frontier island in November that killed two civilians and two Marines, and sparked brief fear of war.

Some 5,000 Marines are stationed at islands near the sea border with the North off the west coast. The military plans to deploy additional 1,200 troops to the flashpoint region later this year, Yonhap said.

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