24/03/2014 by Paul Fiddian - Armed Forces International's Lead Reporter
The Republic of Korea Air Force is upgrading its equipment, with plans announced to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth multirole fighters and four Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles.
South Korea's aim is to revitalise its air force through deals set to be fully firmed-up between July and September 2014, with airframe deliveries tentatively scheduled from 2018 onwards. The Global Hawk UAVs' purchase price isn't known but, according to information given by defence officials to news agency Reuters, the 40 Lightning IIs will cost an estimated $6.8 billion in total.
Previously, South Korea seemed to have chosen the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle to meet the Republic of Korea Air Force's future fighter needs. However, in November 2013, it was hinted that, instead, the country's preference had swung towards the Lockheed Martin design.
South Korean F-35 Order
In a statement, Lockheed Martin expressed pleasure at the South Korean F-35 order announcement and pledged to support arrangements between the US and South Korea to set a contract in motion.
"We are honored by and appreciate the trust and confidence the Republic of Korea has placed in the 5th Generation F-35 to meet its demanding security requirements", explained its vice president of aeronautics, Orlando Carvalho. "We look forward to supporting the discussions between the Republic of Korea and US governments in support of a final agreement this year."
South Korea now becomes the tenth nation to have moved to acquire the F-35 Lightning II, alongside the US, UK, Australia, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Turkey, Israel and Japan.
Lightning II Stealth Multirole Fighter
Produced by a US-led consortium, the F-35 Lightning II stealth multirole fighter features cutting-edge technology aimed at making it undetectable by enemy radars. Three versions are available - the F-35A, F-35B and F-35C. These are capable of conventional (runway-based) take offs and landings, short take offs and landings and aircraft carrier operations, respectively.
The Republic of Korea Air Force has been active since 1949. According to a 2010 count, it operates 760 aircraft, many of them US-origin. McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons currently make up the backbone of its fighter fleet.
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