Sunday, March 1, 2009
11:36 PM ASIAN DEFENCE No comments
By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea is looking at introducing the U.S. Lockheed Martin-built F-35B fighter variant, to fly from its 14,000-ton Dokdo large-deck landing ship, along with the F-35A air force version, as part of mid- and long-term force improvement plans, a source here said Sunday.The move comes as the country's arms procurement agency, Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), is preparing to open the third-phase F-X fighter acquisition program in the coming years, he said. DAPA said earlier that it would launch the next-phase F-X bid by 2011, with the aim of deploying the planes between 2014 and 2019.
In a related event, a group of Pentagon officials gave a briefing on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program to DAPA officials in Seoul early last month at the request of the arms agency, said the source.``The agency is conducting preliminary research on the next-phase fighter acquisition program and collecting information about foreign fighters, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,'' the source told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.As for the JSF, which is under development, he said, the agency previously focused on the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant for the Air Force but is now thinking also about the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant for the Marine Corps or Navy. There will be another variant for the Navy, the F-35C, to fly from aircraft carriers.Japan, Israel and Taiwan are reportedly interested in the F-35B version.``The F-35B is a fifth generation fighter that will provide a quantum leap in capability, basing flexibility, and mission execution across the full spectrum of conflict,'' a U.S. Marine Corps official said, asking not to be named.
South Korea's Navy launched its first Dokdo Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH 6111) in 2005 and wants to have one more Dokdo-class carriers by 2016. The 199-meter-long, 31-meter-wide vessel is the largest helicopter transporter in Asia and will serve as a light aircraft carrier to orchestrate the Korean Navy's future strategic mobile squadron. Experts have said when the landing ship is equipped with a ski jump module, vertical or short takeoff and landing aircraft such as the Harrier or the F-35B will be able to be launched from the deck.Observers say the latest move appears to reflect Seoul's strong interest in the JSF, also known as Lightening II, as a candidate for the upcoming F-X deal, for which Boeing's F-15K NF III, Saab's Gripen NG, Eurofighter's Typhoon and others are also expected to compete.
The F-X aims to equip the South Korean Air Force with 120 advanced high-end fighters by 2020 to replace its aging fighter fleet. The U.S. Boeing Company won South Korean orders for batches of 40 and 21 F-15s in two previous deals.Lockheed's F-22 Raptor is also on the list of candidates, but chances for Seoul to buy the fifth-generation stealth fighter are slim due to financial and legal problems. U.S. technology protection law forbids the export of the world's most advanced F-22s, whose per-unit cost is some $200 million. In that context, the F-35, with similar capabilities to those of the F-22, has often referred to as a viable candidate. The fifth-generation F-35, fitted with radar-evading stealth technology, is a single-seat, single-engine multi-role fighter jet that can perform close air support, tactical bombing and air defense missions.
The price tag for the F-35A is about $60 million, while those for the F-35B and F-35C are expected to cost in the upper $80 to $90 million range, respectively, according to Lockheed Martin officials. The F-35B version is slated to enter service first with the U.S. Marines in 2012, followed by the F-35A in 2013 and the F-35C in 2015. The JSF development is being funded by nine major partners, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark. The partners plan to acquire over 3,100 F-35s through 2035, according to reports. Lockheed officials say delivery of the conventional-takeoff-and-landing F-35A for South Korea would begin in 2014 if a contract is signed before 2010.