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South Korea Said to Pick F-35 in Fighter Buy

South Korea reportedly picked the F-35 fighter jet in a deal valued at almost $7 billion, according to a news report.

The country plans to buy 40 of the stealth aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp., according to an article by Joyce Lee of Reuters.

South Korea had previously planned to buy 60 F-15SE, an upgraded version of the F-15 made by Boeing Co., rather than the F-35 or the Eurofighter made by Airbus SAS. But the country reversed course amid provocations by North Korea and opted for the radar-evading aircraft instead.

Now, it plans to purchase 40 conventional F-35s for about $6.8 billion, with the first delivery expected in 2018, along with four Global Hawk drones made by Northrop Grumman Corp. for another $800 million-plus, according to the report. The deal is expected to be finalized later this year, making South Korea the 10th country to commit to purchasing the F-35, it stated.

The U.S. Defense Department requested funding for 34 of the aircraft in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, including 26 of the Air Force’s conventional model, F-35A, six of the Marine Corps’ vertical-landing version, F-35B, and two of the Navy’s aircraft carrier variant, F-35C. That’s down from 42 planes the department previously projected it would buy during the period, but up from the 29 aircraft it’s buying this year.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the Pentagon’s most expensive acquisition effort, estimated last year to cost $391 billion to develop and build a total of 2,457 F-35 Lightning IIs. The fifth-generation, single-engine jet is made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.

The plane is behind schedule and over budget, with numerous developmental problems, including cracking in bulkheads, wing flanges and other areas; tires that blow out too frequently; and software glitches that impact everything from the helmet-mounted display to the automated parts-replacement system, known as the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS (pronounced “Alice”).

Even so, military officials say the program has passed the point of no return. “I don’t see any scenario where we’re walking back away from this program,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan recently told CBS.

Associate Editor Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@monster.com.

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