THE REPUBLIC of Korea’s Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA), confirmed on March24 that the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has been formally selected to meet the requirements of the country’s FX-III fighter acquisition programme. Commenting on the decision, Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics executive vice president, said: “We are honoured by and appreciate the trust and confidence the Republic of Korea has placed in the fifth-generation F-35 to meet its demanding security requirements. We look forward to supporting the discussions between the Republic of Korea and US governments in support of a final agreement this year. This decision strengthens and extends our long-standing security partnership while enhancing regional stability across the greater Asia Pacific theatre.”
Three previous rounds of bidding to acquire 60 new fighters for the ROKAF under the FX-III programme had failed to find an aircraft that met requirements. The issue had primarily been the strict 8.3 trillion won ($7.3 billion) ceiling set by DAPA for the purchase, all of the bidders having struggled to make an offer that could keep within this price. In the most recent tender, bids for which were submitted on August 16, 2013, the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle had emerge as the only contender to qualify, as both the other contenders, the Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35A, had come in over the budget cap.
Pressure from the Defence Ministry to acquire the F-35A at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on November 22, 2013, determined that a purchase of 40 F-35As should be made in order to meet previously stated requirements for stealth capability. The reduced buy of 40 aircraft is being made in order to come within the strict budget limitations. It is anticipated that a further 20 fighters will be purchased at a later date, but these will not necessarily be F-35As and are unlikely to be in service for another decade.
The budget for the acquisition has already been approved by the Finance Ministry. Once a contract has been finalised, expected in the third quarter of this year, it is hoped that the first of the 40 F-35As can be delivered to the ROKAF from around 2018. Alan Warnes