The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has announced that South Korea will buy 40 F-35 fighter aircraft. South Korea is the third country to acquire the F-35 after Israel and Japan, besides the United States and eight other countries that are part of the F-35 program.
A contract is expected to be signed soon and will be worth 7.3 trillion South Korean won or about $7 billion for 40 of the F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) variant to be delivered starting in 2018. They are to replace the F-4 and F-5 aircraft in service.
The F-35, the F-15 Silent Eagle and the European Typhoon were the three candidates that had submitted a bid to be awarded a contract for the F-X III project, which originally sought 60 aircraft for no more than 8.3 trillion won. Only the F-15 managed to stay under the budget allocated.
However, South Korea decided not to select the F-15 despite being the only candidate to meet the original requirements. Instead, the F-35 was selected at the cost of reduced numbers with only 40 to be acquired and not 60 as originally planned.
The DAPA has also announced that South Korea intends to proceed with the domestic KF-X program. The plan is for 120 aircraft starting around 2025 for around 8.5 trillion won. Although South Korea has for many years made it clear that it intends to produce a domestic low-observable fighter aircraft, not much progress has been made until now.
However, as part of the F-35 selection, Lockheed Martin will provide engineering expertise and transfer technology that South Korea hopes will aid the development of the KF-X program. Previously, Indonesia had agreed to take part in the development of the KF-X project with South Korea.
Lockheed Martin may also have a communications satellite build and launched to help fulfill South Korea's demand for offset equivalent to 50 percent of the value of the F-35 contract. The satellite for military use will most likely come from a European supplier and will cost several hundred million dollars.