SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea is to buy Taurus bunker-busting air-to-ground long range missiles for its F-15K strike fighters in a move to boost its strike power amid rising tensions with North Korea, its defence minister told a parliamentary committee on Thursday.
The decision to pick a European supplier is due to Washington's unwillingness to supply Seoul's first-choice missile, the US-made JASSM, a person familiar with the plans later told Reuters. It is a rare decision for the South Korean military, which primarily picks US-made equipment.
The decision comes as South Korea is getting ready to award a tender for 60 fighter jets, in a competition between Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 stealth fighter, Boeing Co's F-15 Silent Eagle as well as Europe's Eurofighter, made by EADS.
"We intend to choose the Taurus missiles and integrate them," Mr Kim Kwan-jin at a parliamentary meeting of the defences committee.
"US missiles were one of the options we were considering, but because it is difficult for them to be sold to Korea, the only option we have is the Taurus," Mr Kim added.
South Korea has expressed interest in the Lockheed Martin Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs) since 2008.
The missiles picked are made by TAURUS Systems GmbH, a partnership between a German subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company and Sweden's Saab Bofors Dynamics, making this the first time South Korea buys a strategic strike weapon from a non-US supplier.
Local media reported that South Korea was looking to buy 200 of the missiles. The country's defence acquisition agency declined to comment on the number of missiles as the information was classified.