* Lockheed's F-35 has the upper hand in the auction
* New auction comes after earlier bid by Boeing voted down
* Boeing, Eurofighter hope S.Korea will pursue mixed
By Joyce Lee
SEOUL, Nov 11 South Korea will set the terms of
a multi-billion dollar fighter jet auction in late November - an
auction likely to favour Lockheed Martin Corp but which
will also be watched by rivals to see if they will get a share
of the pie.
Sources familiar with the matter also said the air force
requested enhanced stealth capability on Monday.
The move was expected after the government in September
bowed to public opinion and voted down a bid by Boeing to
supply 60 warplanes, saying it would restart the the 8.3
trillion won ($7.8 billion) tender process to get a more
advanced, radar-evading jet.
At the time, Boeing's bid was the only one that had come
within budget and even if it now favours Lockheed's F-35
programme, Seoul is also considering options such as initially
buying fewer jets or splitting the purchase between different
jets to keep costs down.
"There is talk of splitting the 60 plane purchase into one
lot of 40 and one lot of 20, but it will all be sorted before
the (Joint Chiefs) meeting," said a separate source belonging to
the Joint Chiefs of staff.
That source and another separate source said the air force's
request will be scrutinised and likely modified by the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, defense ministry and the presidential office
before being approved at a Joint Chiefs meeting tentatively set
for Nov. 27.
Although the defense ministry is in talks with the finance
ministry to increase the budget for the jet purchase, the
likelihood of that is slim as South Korea wrestles with a tax
shortfall of up to 8 trillion won this year while trying to
expand social welfare spending.
Boeing spokesman Conrad Chun said a mixed purchase was the
best option for the South Korean government.
"We know that cost, capability and safety are important to
the ROKAF (Korea's air force)... and believe that the best
option is a mixed buy that includes Advanced F-15s that have a
guaranteed price and capability," he said in a statement emailed
The Eurofighter consortium is also hoping for a mixed
"We are prepared to offer a programme flexible enough to
accomodate (a split) scenario," said Christian Scherer, EADS
Cassidian's chief sales officer and head of
One U.S. government official said South Korea had asked for
and been granted an extension in the terms of the proposed F-35
offer through the end of December.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said
Washington was awaiting details in coming weeks on how Seoul
planned to proceed with the fighter competition.
Lockheed officials were not immediately available for