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S. Korea decides to buy 40 Lockheed F-35s from 2018

All Headlines 15:06 November 22, 2013

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea decided Friday to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin's F-35A stealth fighters for four years starting in 2018, with an option to buy 20 more later depending on the security situation and budget, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

JCS Chairman Choi Yun-hee held a meeting of top commanders to approve the plan to buy the 40 F-35 Block 3s, which are capable of conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with internal carriage and external stations for missiles and bombs. The software configuration is expected to reach the initial operating capability around 2015, according to the company.

As the F-35 is sold only through the U.S. foreign military sales (FMS) program, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is expected to purchase the aircraft through a government-to-government deal and without an open bid.

The government-to-government FMS condition requires a foreign government to pay the amount specified by the U.S. government for the F-35s at the time of payment.

The move comes as the Air Force had asked the government to buy the combat aircraft with a lower radar cross section, one of the key stealth functions, and advanced avionic warfare capabilities.

"The F-35A will be used as a strategic weapon to gain a competitive edge and defeat the enemy in the early stage of war," the JCS said. "The South Korean military will also use the aircraft to effectively deal with provocations."

The purchase plan has been scaled back from the previous one that called for buying 60 aircraft worth 8.3 trillion won (US$7.2 billion). Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle was the only bid within the budget for the past bidding, but it was voted down due to relatively weak stealth capabilities.

For an additional 20 jets, the South Korean government will reconsider the required operational capability and security situations with a goal of deployment between 2023 and 2024, giving Boeing and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EDAS), which participated in the past bidding, an opportunity to secure a contract.

Boeing earlier proposed a mixed purchase of F-15s and F-35s to minimize a security vacuum, while EADS highlighted an offset deal, including the transfer of technology and industrial participation for South Korea's indigenous fighter jet project in synergies between the aircraft procurement and development program.

The state arms procurement agency can extend the funding up to 120 percent of the total budget assigned for the past program, but such a decision needs approval from the finance ministry and the parliament. Assigning an increased budget for the costly fighter acquisition could also draw complaints from other military branches that are eager to upgrade their equipment.

Unlike the fierce competition for the past project, industry experts say the one-way bid gives Seoul less room to negotiate other conditions such as a technology transfer or industrial cooperation in connection with the program.


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