Lockheed Martin is hoping to receive US Government approval shortly to begin offering a foreign-military-sales (FMS) version of its F-22 air-superiority fighter to selected allied countries, including South Korea.
According to Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems president Dain Hancock, the US Government is expected to give the company a green light to respond to expression of interests in the F-22 "within a few months".
The move is designed to allow the US manufacturer to continue to compete for export orders from countries looking for a "fifth-generation" fighter to follow on from the F-16. The USA is keen to boost F-22 production numbers to reduce unit costs.
Lockheed Martin is already looking at several F-22 FMS variants, but refuses to give any specific details of possible changes to the fighter's configuration. Industry sources suggest that there might be some downgrading of sensitive stealth and sensor technology on initial export aircraft.
The company is keen to promote the aircraft to South Korea to meet its F-X requirement for a new fighter. Lockheed Martin, however, concedes that it would not be able to deliver an FMS aircraft until 2005/6 at the earliest, one to two years after the F-22 is scheduled to enter USAF service.
Tentative South Korean Air Force planning calls for the F-X fighter to be selected in 1998, and the first of an initial batch of 60 aircraft to enter service in 2002. A second batch of 60 F-Xs is pencilled in for 2008.
Another potential obstacle is the F-22's estimated $70 million unit-price. Hancock argues, however, that the cost of the aircraft has to be balanced against the "capability it provides over the Eurofighter and Rafale".
Eurofighter is actively pushing the EF2000 in South Korea, and claims that it could deliver an aircraft in 2003, providing that there is agreement among the partners to release some early production slots for export customers. It is also prepared to discuss local industrial participation. "Everything is up for grabs," says marketing director Ned Frith.
Dassault is willing to involve South Korean industry in its Rafale programme to secure an order. "Rafale offers a very good partnership-we're open to this kind of discussion with the Koreans," says vice president Jean Claude Girard. The air force has also registered interest in the McDonnell Douglas F-15E and Sukhoi Su-37.