The Boeing P-8 Poseidon, which carries a price tag of between $223 and 268 million, is being considered, according to a senior government official speaking with the South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday.
The official believes the new crafts are necessary as "North Korea is preparing a number of strategic ways to attack the South using its submarine fleet on top of the SLBM development. We are discussing whether to purchase the latest maritime patrol aircraft to detect North Korean submarines to prevent surprise attacks from under water."
The Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN) felt the need to beef up its surveillance capabilities after the DPRK’s SLBM test launch landed in Japanese waters last week after flying some 500 kilometers.
"Although we need to expand the reach of our surveillance in the aftermath of the SLBM success by the North, there are limits with the outdated anti-submarine patrol aircraft currently operated by the Navy," the official said.
The 16 P-3C patrol jets currently in use were introduced in the 1960s and use propeller engines. The RoKN has been looking to acquire new anti-submarine patrol jets since March 2010, when 46 sailors died after the Cheonan warship sank in the Yellow Sea. Navy officials concluded that a North Korean torpedo was to blame.
A month after the Cheonan sank an unnamed military source told South Korean News Agency Yonhap, "North Korean submarines are all armed with heavy torpedoes with 200 kg warheads. It is the military intelligence's assessment that the North attacked with a heavy torpedo."
They added, "The military intelligence has made the report to the Blue House [where the President lives] and to the defence ministry immediately after the sinking of the Cheonan that it is clearly the work of North Korea's military."
In the aftermath of the sinking, the Ministry of Defense saw the need for more maritime surveillance aircraft and encouraged the purchase of 12 Lockheed S-3 Viking jets.
An RoKN official stated, "We need to detect an enemy submarine when it surfaces in our waters. Doing so requires antisubmarine aircraft with wide surveillance coverage and high speeds. The P-8 Poseidon equipped with the latest detection technology can enhance our operational capability."
The P-8 Poseidon jet can reach speeds up to 490 knots, altitudes of 41,000 feet and can fly 4,500 miles without refueling. The aircraft can be fitted with weapons including air-dropped torpedoes to strike enemy submarines upon detection. According to the manufacturer, the jets have "twice the sonobuoy processing capability and can carry 30 percent more sonobuoys than any maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft currently flying."