Presided over by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, a top defense project decision-making panel approved the plan. The total budget for the project is set at some 7.4 trillion won ($6.86 billion), said a senior Seoul official on condition of anonymity.
|Lockheed Martin’s F-35A|
“We will sign a contract by the third quarter of this year after testing procedures and negotiations,” said Baek Youn-hyeong, spokesperson for the Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
Upon the final decision, official negotiations with the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin are expected to begin soon. The negotiations also concern what kind of technology the U.S. firm can provide to help Seoul with its project of building indigenous fighters.
Last November, Seoul decided to purchase 40 radar-evading warplanes without specifically referring to the F-35 warplane. But the F-35 was the sole candidate as it was the only all-stealth airplane available on the market.
Seoul plans to purchase the F-35A, which is the fighter’s Air Force variant. The F-35B is the Marine Corps’ short takeoff and vertical landing variant and the F-35C the Navy’s carrier-based version.
During Monday’s panel meeting, Seoul also approved a plan to purchase four Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles from 2018-19 through the foreign military sale method. The budget is set at 880 billion won.
The single-engine Global Hawk, produced by Northrop Grumman, can fly at an altitude of 18 kilometers or higher for 36 hours. With an operational range of 3,000 kilometers, it is capable of covering the whole of North Korea.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)