South Korea is preparing to counter potential military threats from regional neighbours China and Japan with a sophisticated billion-dollar defence system it wants to buy from the United States, analysts say. While North Korea remained the South's main military concern, the Aegis sea-based radar system was considered by defence experts to be of more use in the future than in the present standoff with the North. One Australia-based analyst suggested that the US could benefit from the system through information-sharing with its allies, South Korea and Japan, to gather intelligence information on China. The US Defence Department has recommended that Congress approve selling the US$1.2 billion (HK$9.3 billion) system to Seoul. A South Korean Defence Ministry official said yesterday that Seoul planned to select a contractor in May to produce the anti-air combat system that it will install on its next generation of naval ships. South Korea plans to have three 7,000-tonne-class destroyers built within the next decade. Seoul University professor Paik Jin-hyun said yesterday that South Korea's navy had been looking to boost its capabilities for some time and had been eyeing Aegis. North Korea posed no greater threat now than it had in the past, but future regional threats from other nations also had to be considered. 'South Korea is surrounded by more powerful nations such as China and Japan and it cannot compete militarily with them,' he said. 'Its navy is looking to the future to build up its capabilities for any future potential threats. Who knows what may happen, and it believes it needs to be prepared.' The US has already sold the Aegis system to Japan. Taiwan also expressed interest last year, but the US put its sale on hold amid protests from China. The deal recommended on Monday by the Pentagon involves three Aegis anti-air warfare systems. The Aegis is essentially a giant radar mounted on the front of naval cruisers. It allows warships to simultaneously detect, track and shoot down - usually in conjunction with Patriot missiles - hundreds of targets such as aircraft. South Korea has 37,000 American troops based on its soil to deter a potential invasion from the North, which it fought from 1950 to 1953. It buys most of its weapons from the US. None of South Korea's neighbours has responded to the Pentagon's announcement, but North Korea has condemned this week's military drills between the South and the US. Pyongyang said the drills damaged chances for renewed dialogue. Professor Paik said North Korea had deployed 600 to 700 long and medium-range missiles and most were directed towards the South. The threat from the North had not diminished, he said. But regional defence expert Ron Huisken, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at Australian National University, disagreed that a sophisticated system such as Aegis was necessary to counter the North Korea threat. He believed it would be in Washington's interests to have allies with a strong defence capability and an ability to gather important intelligence information that could be shared. China, he suggested, could be the focus of such interest. 'The North Korean threat these days is primarily one of rockets, artillery and lots and lots of people,' Mr Huisken said. 'Their air force is numerically large, but dismal . . . their naval force is almost non-existent. You'd have to wonder why South Korea has any interest in Aegis class capability.' He believed claims by the US that North Korea's missile programme was a major threat were overblown to justify Washington's controversial missile defence shield. China, North Korea and Russia have been among the strongest voices of protest. The US in February accused North Korea, Iran and Iraq of being an 'axis of evil' producing weapons of mass destruction. Weeks later, funding for the missile shield was approved by Congress.