South Korea has agreed to sign a letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) with the US Government to purchase F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters.

In March, the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (Dapa) selected F-35 aircraft for the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) F-X III fighter project, over the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

South Korea will buy 40 F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant jets from Lockheed Martin at an estimated cost of KRW7.34tn ($7bn).

Deliveries are scheduled to start in 2018 and be completed by 2021.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics executive vice-president Orlando Carvalho said: "This decision strengthens and extends our long-standing security partnership and truly enhances the regional stability among our greater Asia Pacific allies."

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"We look forward to producing and delivering, on time and within budget, Korea’s F-35A conventional take-off and landing variant aircraft."

The deal also includes terms for technology transfers to help Seoul build its own advanced fighter aircraft.

"This decision strengthens and extends our long-standing security partnership and enhances the regional stability of Asia Pacific."

Under development for the US Air Force, the F-35A features internal carriage and external stations for missiles and bombs. It is designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with stealth capability.

Dapa selected the F-15 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.

The F-X fighter is scheduled to replace ROKAF’s ageing F-4 and F-5 fighter aircraft fleet.

The three F-35 variants, including the short take-off and vertical landing aircraft and carrier versions, are scheduled to replace USAF’s A-10 and F-16s, the US Navy’s F/A-18, US Marine Corps’ F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier, and a variety of fighter aircraft for at least ten foreign countries.

South Korea is the third country to confirm orders for the fighter after Israel and Japan.

Image: A F-35 Lightning II aircraft in flight. Photo: courtesy of © 2014 Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Defence Technology