31.10.2013 Defence IQ Press
South Korea is nearing a decision to buy some Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, but may keep its options open for a limited purchase of Boeing Co's (BA.N) F-15, sources familiar with the country's fighter competition said on Wednesday.
South Korean officials could announce their plans as early as November to secure the funding needed to ensure initial deliveries of the F-35 in 2017, according to multiple sources who were not authorized to speak publicly. They cautioned that the decisions were not yet final, and an announcement could still be postponed if the decision-making process hits a snag.
South Korea's fighter competition has been closely watched given its importance to Boeing, which is keen to extend its F-15 production line beyond 2018, and to Lockheed, which is trying to drive down the price of the F-35 by securing more buyers.
Boeing's new F-15 Silent Eagle model was the only bid that came in under South Korea's budget cap of 8.3 trillion won ($7.2 billion). But Seoul last month rejected that offer and said it needed a fifth-generation warplane that is nearly invisible to enemy radar - a move widely seen as an endorsement of the F-35.
Europe's Eurofighter also plans to bid again for the order, but the head of Europe's EADS (EAD.PA) acknowledged last month that the company faced a tough battle against its U.S. rivals.
South Korean officials have said they are examining a mixed procurement approach that could help Seoul maintain sufficient numbers of fighters in its fleet if the F-35 runs into further delays. They are also looking at reducing the size of the order to 40 or 50 planes.
Analysts say Boeing is now offering Seoul a range of options for an upgraded F-15, instead of the more expensive Silent Eagle variant the company initially proposed, although the Silent Eagle version technically remains an option.
South Korean officials are under pressure to commit to at least some F-35 purchases soon, given their own budget deadlines, and the need to start buying certain "long-lead" materials needed for any jets that would be delivered in 2017.
Seoul may put off, at least for now, whether to buy a smaller number of F-15 variants, the sources said.
"South Korea will need to decide on a plan as soon as possible in order to secure (the project's) budget for next year," said one source with direct knowledge of a task force set up last month to review options for the delayed fighter jet buy. [Reuters]
The Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet dropped a 500-pound bomb this week, hitting a tank at Edwards Air Force Base in California and marking the first time the new warplane has fired a laser-guided weapon, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
An F-35 B-model jet released the Guided Bomb Unit-12 (GBU-12) Paveway II bomb from its internal weapons bay while flying at around 25,000 feet, successfully smashing into a tank parked on the ground, the Pentagon's F-35 program office said in a statement. It took 35 seconds to hit the target.
"This guided weapons delivery test of a GBU-12 marks the first time the F-35 truly became a weapon system," said Marine Corps Major Richard Rusnok, the pilot who flew the plane during the weapons test Tuesday. "It represents another step forward in development of this vital program."
Different F-35 models have test-fired missiles during flight and over water. But this marked the first time the jet had fired a guided weapon at a ground target.
After more than a decade of development, the $392 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is making strides in testing, production and operations. The Marine Corps plans to start operating the planes in mid-2015.
The Pentagon's top arms buyer, Frank Kendall, this week said the F-35 program had made sufficient progress to budget for higher production in fiscal year 2015, but said he remained concerned about progress on the jet's software, reliability and a computer-based logistics system.
The GBU-12 weapons test will be followed later on Wednesday by a live fire test at Edwards Air Force Base of an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, or AMRAAM, built by Raytheon Co.
A test of the F-35's ability to drop a 1,000-pound GBU-32 built by Boeing Co is planned next month. [Reuters]
The Pentagon's chief arms buyer wants details on how Lockheed Martin Corp and other companies will be held accountable for the quality and reliability of the F-35 fighter jet as he considers whether to approve an increase in the plane's production, U.S. defense officials said on Friday.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is asking the Pentagon office that runs the $392 billion F-35 program to map out how it will ensure the quality, reliability and maintainability of the new warplanes as production ramps up in coming years, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Kendall chaired a five-hour review of the Pentagon's biggest arms program on Monday that showed progress in F-35 development, production and testing, and confirmed that Lockheed and its suppliers were technically ready to increase production.
But Kendall and other Pentagon officials want to make sure that they have contractual language and other tools in hand to hold Lockheed and engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, responsible if problems arise.
"The government wants to see how it can incentivize the contractors to do well, and what leverage it will have if they don't," said one source familiar with the program.
The Pentagon drive for more rigorous oversight could result in additional clauses in the next contracts for jets and engines. The contracts are being negotiated separately by Pratt and Lockheed with the government in coming months.
Government plans call for Lockheed to increase F-35 production from around 36 planes this year to 45 in 2016 and ramping up to 110 planes a year by the end of the decade. The company expects to build about 200 jets a year when the program, the largest in Pentagon history, is in full production.
Decisions on future production rates have been complicated by the lack of a federal government budget for the new fiscal year that began October 1 and uncertainty about additional cuts in Pentagon spending due to take effect under sequestration unless Congress agrees on other deficit-reducing measures. [Reuters]