The Defense Ministry is in consultation with the Finance Ministry over the issue of increasing the 8.3 trillion won ($7.8 billion) budget for its next-generation fighter procurement project, a Seoul official said Thursday.
“When the military is reconsidering which fighter jet it would procure, it has presented its position to the government that the budget also needs to be increased,” he said, declining to be named.
“The Defense Ministry is considering several options. Taking into account various scenarios such as increasing the budget and modifying the required operational capability, we are working on determining the adequate number of fighters to procure.”
The government has recently decided to start the project from scratch after rejecting the final candidate ― Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle. The decision came amid criticism that it focused more on budgetary constraints than on broader national strategic interests.
The Defense Ministry is expected to determine how to proceed again with the project this year and the winner of the procurement contest next year. Observers presume the ministry could increase the budget to purchase 60 fighters as initially planned, or reduce the number.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported, citing multiple sources, that Seoul is nearing a decision to buy Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets, and could announce its procurement plans as early as November to secure funding for the initial delivery of the F-35 in 2017.
It is widely expected that South Korea would seek to purchase radar-evading warplanes as neighboring states such as China and Japan are seeking to procure stealth combat aircraft. As part of its long-term plans, Seoul also seeks to acquire stealth detecting radars by the 2020s.
China is trying to develop fifth-generation aircraft such as the J-20 and J-31 while Japan has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to purchase 42 F-35 jets. Russia is working on building its own T-50 stealth fighter with the goal of deploying it in 2016.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com