“We will… push to sign the contract in the third quarter… after testing and further negotiations,” Jung Kwang-Sun, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration’s aircraft department director, told reporters in a briefing late Monday.
The South’s air force has been looking to upgrade its ageing fleet of Boeing F-4 and F-5 fighters in the light of North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
Jung did not specifically name the F-35s, but they are the only jet fighters on offer that meet the requirement — laid down by the South Korean joint chiefs of staff last month — for a stealth-capable fighter.
The absence of a stealth capability was behind the military’s decision in September to block a $7.7 billion deal to buy 60 of Boeing’s F-15 fighters.
The Boeing aircraft was the only one to come in under the $7.7 billion budget approved by parliament.
The tender has since been adjusted, although Jung declined to give details on the cost of the 40 F-35s, saying it would require both finance ministry and parliamentary approval.
“If we choose to buy F-35s, we will choose to buy the F-35A that has been adopted by the US Air Force,” he said, adding they would be delivered from 2018 onwards.
The F-35A takes off and lands conventionally. The F-35B variant can land vertically, like the obsolete Harrier plane, and its users will include the US Marines and Britain’s armed forces.
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