Korea will purchase four Global Hawk surveillance drones from the United States in a step toward taking the lead role in intelligence gathering here by 2015, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said Monday.
The deal for the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial vehicle, will be $1.2 billion (1.28 trillion won), the DSCA said in a press release, adding that a mandatory notification to Congress had been made.
The deal, whose principal contractor will be Northrop Grumman Corporation, still needs congressional approval, will come ahead of Seoul's move to take over wartime operational control of its troops from Washington in two years.
Seoul "needs this intelligence and surveillance capability to assume primary responsibility for intelligence gathering from the U.S. led Combined Forces Command in 2015," the DSCA, affiliated with the Pentagon, said.
"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 aircrafts come with Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suites (EISS) associated equipment and logistical support.
The EISS includes infrared/electro-optical, synthetic aperture radar imagery and ground moving target indicators, mission control element, launch and recovery element, signals intelligence package, an imagery intelligence exploitation system and logistical support," the statement said.
The military has long coveted the high-altitude UAV from the Virginia-based company.
Washington was reportedly reluctant to make the sale but has relented amid defense budget cuts that have prompted the U.S. military to reduce its purchases of Global Hawks.
The OPCON transfer was agreed upon in 2007. Under the plan, Korea will assume the lead role, and the United States, a supporting role in defense against any potential North Korean attack. Originally slated to be implemented this year, the transfer was pushed to 2015 by Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Barack Obama following Pyongyang's deadly attacks in 2010.
Korea "is one of the major political and economic powers in East Asia and the Western Pacific and a key partner of the United States in ensuring peace and stability in that region," the statement said.