WASHINGTON Dec 20 South Korea is unlikely to
finalize any orders for the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35
stealth fighter jet until the summer or fall of 2014, after it
redoes a complicated acquisition process, according to three
sources familiar with the issue.
South Korea's military chiefs last month said Seoul would
buy 40 Lockheed F-35 fighters, with the first planes to be
delivered in 2018, despite the fact the only Boeing Co's
F-15 fighter met the competition's price target.
They say an additional 20 fighters to be acquired could be
Europe's Eurofighter also bid for the order. Both
Boeing and Eurofighter have said they remain willing to supply
smaller numbers of jets to Seoul, if asked.
The sources said the military chiefs' decision requires
Seoul to redo part of its acquisition process and also take
another look at the budget, which in turn will defer any move to
finalize F-35 orders until the second half of 2014, months later
Despite the delay, South Korea is not expected to change the
decision to buy F-35s, still seen as the only planes that meet
the country's stealth requirement, the sources said.
"They have to file another request with the defense
acquisition board, which could push it out through the summer or
fall of next year," said one of the sources, who was not
authorized to speak publicly. "But the F-35 is still the only
plane that meets their stealth requirement."
A second source agreed. "So far, the process is that the
F-35 is the only one that meets the requirements. They are
pursuing the F-35 with all effort and speed," said the source,
who was not authorized to speak publicly about the
U.S. officials had expected South Korea to order jets as
part of a ninth production batch of F-35s, for which an advanced
procurement contract will soon be issued, but the delay means
Seoul's orders will fall back into the 10th lot of jets, said
one of the three sources.
Lockheed last month said it would abide by its commitments
to a range of offset projects, including construction and launch
of a military communications satellite, that were submitted as
part of the F-35 offer, despite the reduced order quantity from
60 to 40.