SEOUL, Nov. 12 (Yonhap) -- The Air Force's first aerial refueling tanker arrived in South Korea on Monday, military officials said, raising hope that it will drastically increase the operational radius of fighters.
"The first tanker arrived at an air base in Gimhae at around 2 p.m. It will receive various acceptance tests for about one month before being deployed," an Air Force official said.
Acceptance evaluations are procedures to check whether the quality requirements specified for weapons and equipment delivered to the military have been met. System construction, maintenance and the aeronautical and logistics sectors, as well as the implementation of normal air-to-air refueling, are subject to the inspection.
The Air Force will fly the tanker during the acceptance test to actually refuel F-15K and KF-16 fighters.
The first tanker is an A330 MRTT model built by Airbus Defence and Space, and South Korea plans to introduce three additional A330 MRTT tankers next year, the official said, putting the cost of the four at about 1.5 trillion won (US$1.32 billion).
The A330 MRTT tanker is 59 meters in length and 60 meters in width and is capable of carrying up to 240,000 pounds (108 tons) of fuel. The Air Force has already selected tanker pilots, mechanics and refueling controllers and completed their pre-training.
Besides F-15K and KF-16 jets, the main powerful aircraft of the Air Force, about 40 F-35A fighters that will be introduced to South Korea between 2019 and 2021 will also be serviced by the tankers, the official said, adding that the tankers will increase air operation time by more than one hour.
With a full tank, a KF-16 fighter can operate for 10 minutes over the East Sea islets of Dokdo and five minutes over Ieodo, an artificial structure in the seas south of Jeju Island.
In the case of the F-15K, its operation time over Dokdo and Ieodo amounts to 30 and 20 minutes, respectively. But the F-15K fighter, if refueled by a tanker, can operate for 90 minutes over Dokdo and 80 minutes over Ieodo, the official explained.
The decision to introduce tankers was made in June 2015. At that time, North Korea strongly denounced the decision as "an act of war crime." Thus it remains to be seen how the North will react this time, watchers say.
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