Thursday, October 22, 2009

South Korean companies could get F-35 work

By Bradley Perrett

South Korean companies could bid for work on the Lockheed Martin F-35 if the country orders the stealth fighter, even though suppliers for the airframe were chosen years ago, the U.S. manufacturer says.

As production builds up turning out one fighter a day, second-source suppliers will be needed for parts that Lockheed Martin itself is responsible for supplying, says Steve O’Bryan, vice president for F-35 business development.

Building F-35 parts to Lockheed Martin’s blueprints would give Korea Aerospace Industries manufacturing work but no opportunity to advance its fighter-design skills, which it might get from participation in Boeing’s proposed program to develop the F-15SE, an Eagle with less radar reflectivity.

Korean Air Aerospace, the manufacturing division of airline Korean Air, would presumably also be interested in helping to make the F-35.

Software work will be available for block 2 and 3 F-35s, says O’Bryan says. Those two upgrades to the aircraft will be based on software improvements, not physical changes.

South Korea is looking for 60 fighters to fill its F-X Phase III requirement. Separately, the indigenous KF-X fighter is proposed for a more distant requirement for fighters that would be fielded in the 2020s. That program, whose future is expected to be decided next month, would greatly advance Korea Aerospace’s skills, but it is being criticized as poor value for money compared to the F-35. Moreover, the KF-X specification has been downgraded to only semi-stealthy performance.


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