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Use of US spy plane to continue in S. Korea through 2020

Use of US spy plane to continue in S. Korea through 2020

Posted January. 30, 2012 04:51,   


The U.S. military will operate its U2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft in South Korea through 2020 by delaying its retirement by more than five years, scrapping its plan to replace the U2 with the high-altitude Global Hawk. The U2 has been used by U.S. forces in South Korea for the surveillance of North Korea.

A high-ranking official from the South Korean Defense Ministry said Sunday that the U.S. Defense Department has made the decision in accordance with the Pentagon`s planned budget cut, adding Washington will notify Seoul of this as soon as possible.

The U.S. had initially sought to replace the U2 with the Global Hawk by 2015 because the latter was considered suitable for stable surveillance of North Korea. The Global Hawk can stay in the sky longer than the U2 and cover large areas. Another reason for mulling the U2’s retirement was lack of capable pilots.

Jeffrey A. Remington, commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force, told The Dong-A Ilbo in June 2009, “The Global Hawk will replace the U2 in the near future. If the South Korea Air Force adopts the Global Hawk, our joint reconnaissance capability will be significantly enhanced."

Due to the U.S. decision to cut its defense budget by around 500 billion U.S. dollars over the coming 10 years, the plan to introduce high-priced and cutting-edge arms such as the Global Hawk was canceled. This has delayed the retirement of the U2.

Since the release of the first U2 in 1955, the U.S. has produced eight upgraded models by remodeling the body and improving a number of reconnaissance devices. Washington has produced more than 100 such planes.

U.S. forces in South Korea are operating three U2s, the best of its kind in flying radius and reconnaissance capability.

The spy plane flies once daily in a 24-kilometer area over the skies of the demarcation line by taking off from the Osan base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province and takes photos of North Korean military facilities in an area 40 to 100 square kilometers north of the Demilitarized Zone with a high-performance camera and intercept radio messages. The information collected by the U2 is transmitted in real time to the U.S. 7th Air Force’s combat operation and intelligence center.

A military source said, “The U.S. Defense Department’s plan to delay the introduction of the Global Hawk will make South Korea’s plan to buy the same kind of aircraft go awry,” adding, “This will make the U2’s role more important for a significant period of time.”