SEOUL — South Korea will bring forward its planned purchase of an advanced fleet of combat fighters with stealth capability to 2015, a project estimated at 10 trillion won (US$9 billion), Yonhap news reported on Sunday.
The move comes as tensions persist on the Korean peninsula as the South is concerned about North Koreas’s missile building, while China confirmed earlier this month it had held its first test-flight of a stealth fighter jet.
U.S. and European defense companies have been gearing up for the third phase of South Korea’s fighter modernization program to replace decades-old F-4E and F-5E/F jets that have been involved in several fatal crashes in recent years.
Boeing Co F-15 fighters, Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 multinational Joint Strike Fighters and EADS Eurofighter jets are likely to join in the competition, the news agency said.
“There is a consensus building within the government to speed up the next-generation fighter project,” Yonhap quoted an unidentified government source as saying.
“A budget of 300 million won is earmarked for the research and development this year, but (the government) could set aside additional money through a budget adjustment if needed.”
Under the original timetable, South Korea would receive proposals from defense companies early next year and pick one in August 2012 to introduce fighter jets with stealth capability between 2016 and 2020.