US approves $2.6B sale of missiles, planes to South Korea

Sale provides upgrade over P-3 surveillance planes

Alex Perlman/US Navy via CNN

A US Navy P-8A Poseidon

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Trump administration has approved a deal to sell six P-8A patrol aircraft to South Korea for an estimated cost of $2.1 billion and 64 Patriot Advanced Capability missiles for $501 million, the US State Department announced Thursday.

If approved by Congress, the aircraft sale will provide an upgrade over the older, US-made P-3 surveillance planes that South Korea has used for more than 25 years.

"The proposed sale will support US foreign policy and national security objectives by enhancing Korea's naval capabilities to provide national defense and significantly contribute to coalition operations," according to a State Department press release.

"The proposed sale will allow the ROK to modernize and sustain its MSA capability for the next 30 years. As a long-time P-3 operator, the ROK will have no difficulty transitioning its MSA force to P-8A," the statement said.

Purchasing the Patriot missile system will allow South Korea "to improve its missile defense capability, defend its territorial integrity and deter threats to regional stability," according to the State Department.

It will also "increase the defensive capabilities of the ROK Military to guard against hostile aggression and shield the allies who train and operate within South Korea's borders."

Specifically, the P-8A is the newest maritime, patrol and reconnaissance aircraft built by the US.

A multi-mission capable aircraft, the P-8A is designed to "conduct anti-submarine warfare; anti-surface warfare; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions," according to the US Navy.

Last month, CNN was granted access to aboard a US P-8A Poseidon plane as it conducted a reconnaissance mission over four key artificial islands in the hotly contested South China Sea.

As part of the sale, South Korea would also receive tactical radio, navigation and early missile warning sensors for the aircraft.

Thursday's announcement comes as the US and allies are days away from launching a new effort to "name and shame" North Korea by publicly exposing violations of sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear and missile programs, two defense officials told CNN.

The new effort will make more public US and allied military efforts to enforce UN sanctions against North Korea, particularly the monitoring of ships performing illicit transfers of refined petroleum to North Korean oil tankers in the East China Sea.

The US has deployed aircraft and surface vessels to detect and disrupt these activities, but has not been very public about its actions until now, partly to avoid irritating Pyongyang in the midst of negotiations over its nuclear program.

South Korea is among the countries involved in coordinating these efforts and the sale of P-8A aircraft fits into the Trump administration's desire to bolster Seoul's capabilities.

Negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear program appear to have reached a standstill but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Monday that President Donald Trump is open to another meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Trump has stressed what he describes as his "very good and warm" relationship with the North Korean leader.

Prior to Sanders' comments, Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said the President has "tried to hold the door open" for Kim to denuclearize, but the US is still waiting for Pyongyang to take those steps.

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