By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, July 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Navy said Wednesday four additional AW-159 shipborne anti-submarine helicopters have joined a front-line fleet for combat operations.
The Navy acquired eight AW-159 choppers, also known as Wildcats, last year in two batches in June and December, respectively. The first four were deployed in February.
"The remaining four were deployed at a front-line fleet and put into maritime operations today," the Navy said in a statement. It did not reveal the location, but a defense source said the new assets will operate near the tense western sea border between the two Koreas.
The twin-engine rotorcraft is armed with lightweight torpedoes, 12.7-mm machine guns and advanced anti-ship guided missiles.
It's also equipped with the dipping sonar system and AESA radar with the range of around 360 kilometers. It features a maximum endurance of 2 hours and 40 minutes.
"As the eight new AW-159 maritime operation helicopters with superb anti-submarine, anti-ship detection and attack capabilities have become fully operational, our military's defense posture has been strengthened further," said Cdr. Kwak Han-jung, commander of the Navy's 622th aviation unit.
In response to the North's growing submarine threats, the South's Navy plans to acquire a dozen more new anti-submarine warfare helicopters in a 900 billion-won (US$782 million) program.
Leonardo Helicopters, the manufacturer of the AW-159, hopes for a repeat order. Other candidate models include Sikorsky's MH-60R and NHIndustries' NH-90.
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