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by Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) -- South Korea was widely expected to pick the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin's F-35 as its major next- generation fighter jet that will replace aging fleets from 2017, a local newspaper reported on Monday citing government and defense officials.
According to the local daily Chosun Ilbo, the country's Air Force has recently proposed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to apply higher standards of stealth functions and aviation electronics equipment to the next-generational fighter jet procurement program.
The stricter standards would raise possibility for the Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet to become a sole bidder at the upcoming tender bids, the newspaper said, noting that it may beat other potential bidders, including Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle and EADS' Eurofighter Tranche 3 Typhoon, in terms of stealth features.
South Korea had pushed an 8.3 trillion won (7.7 billion U.S. dollars) project to buy 60 fighter jets, the largest arms import contract in its history, to replace the aging fleets of F-4s and F- 5s for five years from 2017.
The Boeing's F-15SE, which solely fell within the 8.3 trillion won budget in the latest auction, was selected as the last candidate, but Seoul voted it down in late September due to lack of its radar-evading functions.
Regarding the report, Seoul's Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters that the meeting for the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be held in late November to decide on the number and the model of next-generational combat planes to be bought.
"At that time, the alternative (Boeing's F-15SE) was rejected to reflect the global aviation technology development trend such as stealth functions," Kim said. "Various options can be considered down the road, with global aviation technology development such as stealth features kept in mind."
Kim said that strengthening stealth functions would mean a reduction in the radar cross section (RCS) rate, or the size of fighter jets reduced on the radar with improved stealth features, but the spokesman said that nothing has been decided yet on the standards.
Meanwhile, the local daily said that possibility for one-way bid by Lockheed Martin was raised as the F-35 stealth jet should be purchased through the U.S. Foreign Military Sale (FMS) program, or the government-to-government contract needed to win approval from the U.S. Congress.
Touching on the issue, Kim said that the scheduled Joint Chiefs of Staffs meeting would be very important as it will decide on whether to select one type of fighter jet or mixed purchases.
Some defense analysts said that Seoul should make mixed purchases, like two types of fighter jets bought with a time lag, as the F-35 has not been completely developed yet, noting that it will prevent security vacuum arising possibly from the delayed purchase.
The mixed purchase would also allow Seoul more room for negotiations such as transfer of technology, which the F-35 purchase through the FMS program strongly bans.
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