South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) has selected Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft for the national air force’s multi-billion dollar F-X Fighter programme.
Following a lengthy-bid process, the JSF decided to procure 40 F-35As, a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant of the stealth aircraft against the originally planned 60 jets, for four years starting from 2018, Yonhap News Agency reports.
The remaining 20 aircraft are expected to be acquired at a later date depending on operational requirement and security situations, for deployment between 2023 and 2024.
JCS spokesman Eom Hyo-sik was quoted by the news agency as saying that the F-35A fighters will be used as a strategic weapon to gain a competitive edge and defeat the enemy in the early stage of war.
"The South Korean military will also use the aircraft to effectively deal with provocations," Hyo-sik said.
Meanwhile, Lockheed said in an e-mailed statement that, "the company confirms that it can supply aircraft in time to meet Seoul’s 2018 objective, and in the F-35’s Block 3F software configuration.”
The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) had initially selected Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle for the KRW8.3tn ($7.2bn) contract in September 2013, but re-tendered the contract the following month amidst concerns that the aircraft’s capabilities were insufficient to maintain a strategic advantage over North Korea.
Scheduled to be conducted through the US Government’s foreign military sales (FMS) route, the decision still needs to be ratified by a committee chaired by South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin.
The value of the new contract remains undisclosed, but the deal incorporates a technology offset agreement that includes a military communications satellite, support in the development of South Korea’s domestically-designed KF-X fighter jet, and a cyber-warfare training centre.
Under development for the US Air Force (USAF), the F-35A features internal carriage and external stations for missiles and bombs, and is designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with stealth capability, which is considered as the primary reason for its selection.
Image: South Korea selects F-35A fighter as its as its main combat aircraft. Photo: courtesy of X360.