Vietnam, S. Korea 'eyeing old US Navy planes'

BERLIN • Vietnam and South Korea are looking seriously at buying refurbished Lockheed Martin Corp P-3 and S-3 maritime surveillance planes to counter China's military buildup and repeated North Korean missile launches, the company said.

Vietnam is expected to request formal pricing and availability data on four to six older United States Navy P-3 Orion aircraft in the next few months, said Mr Clay Fearnow, a senior executive with Lockheed's aeronautics division, at the Berlin air show last week.

If the sale goes through, retired US Navy P-3 turboprop planes now parked in a desert would be rebuilt with new wings, a new mission system and anti-submarine warfare equipment for Vietnam, he said. The cost could exceed the US$80 million (S$109 million) to US$90 million price tag for each of the 12 P-3s rebuilt for Taiwan several years ago, given the added equipment, he said.

The Obama administration's move to lift its arms embargo on Vietnam last month paved the way for such a sale, but any deal would still have to be carefully reviewed by the US government, according to US and Lockheed officials.

But in one of the first public comments from a Vietnamese defence official since the embargo was lifted, Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh said over the weekend that significant weapons purchases are some way off. "We are not sure what we can buy from the US or what we want to buy," he said.

South Korea is also looking at ordering new wings for existing aircraft, but must decide by Sept 1 to avoid a potentially costly gap in the supply chain for the wings, Mr Fearnow said. In addition to new wings for eight of its P-3s, Seoul is also looking at acquiring 12 of the US Navy's S-3 aircraft, which were retired in 2009 and are now parked in a desert, he added.

The US State Department said it could not comment on potential P-3 or S-3 sales until it formally notifies the US Congress.

The Philippines also wants to expand its maritime surveillance capabilities, but is still defining its requirements, Mr Fearnow said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Vietnam, S. Korea 'eyeing old US Navy planes''. Print Edition | Subscribe