Lockheed Martin remains confident that South Korea will select its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the third phase of its F-X competition, with the company saying that Seoul could even get access to the aircraft from 2014 if required.

"The F-35 is the best value fighter for South Korea. The country has received a classified briefing, and studies are under way to see if the aircraft can fit the various capabilities required by the air force. This will continue into 2010," says Steve O'Brien, Lockheed's vice-president of F-35 business development.

"There are slots available in 2014 for the first FMS [Foreign Military Sales] customer to take delivery of the F-35. We've given a number of different briefings to different customers on this issue, and it is up to the customers if they would like to come on board."

Just as it has with Japan, Lockheed is dangling the prospect of South Korean industry possibly participating in the F-35 programme by becoming second-tier suppliers. It could also allow some form of assembly work to take place in South Korea, similar to its agreement with Italy.

F-35 JSF
 © Lockheed

South Korea is looking to buy around 60 fighters through its next F-X programme. However, there are worries in Seoul about possible delays to the F-35 programme, and that early versions of the type may not be as sophisticated as later models.

That could pave the way for Boeing and its new F-15 Silent Eagle, which the company has proposed with countries such as South Korea in mind. The F-15K was selected for the first two phases of South Korea's F-X competition, and Boeing is pushing Seoul to consider the F-15SE as an alternative to the F-35.

Industry sources say Boeing is willing to offer South Korea some work in the co-development of the stealth technology that it plans to use in the F-15SE, an offer that could help the country when it begins to work on its proposed KF-X light fighter.

"Boeing looks forward to Korea's anticipated competition. We are developing an advanced F-15, which we hope will fulfil Korea's defence capabilities and needs for many years to come," says Greg Laxton, vice-president Korea business development at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

"We are committed to building on the success of the F-15K next fighter I and II programmes, by working with our Korean industry partners to continue to strengthen Korea's aerospace industry."

Lockheed points out that only the F-35 and its F-22 Raptor are truly fifth-generation stealth fighters, while the F-15SE has only some "stealth elements", a fact that Boeing accepts.

"Stealth systems must be designed into the aircraft. This cannot be replicated in fourth-generation fighters. And the F-35 is about 10 years ahead of the F-22 in this regard," says O'Brien. "We won't comment on our competitors' products, but what I know is that the US government is going to purchase only fifth-generation aircraft and that is the F-35."

Source: Flight International