The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) will finalize the purchase of 40 Lockheed Martins next-generation F-35 jet fighter jets later this year.
"We will push to sign the contract in the third quarter, after testing and further negotiations," Jung Kwang-Sun, the DAPAs aircraft department director, was quoted as saying by various media report.
The South Korean air force has been looking to upgrade its ageing fleet of Boeing F-4 and F-5 fighters in the light of North Korea's growing nuclear threat.
Jung did not specifically name the F-35s, but in November 2013, Yonhap News reported that Seoul will purchase 40 Lockheed Martin's F-35A stealth fighters from 2018, with an option to buy 20 more later.
The absence of a stealth capability was behind the military's decision in September 2013 to block a $7.7 billion deal to buy 60 of Boeing's F-15 fighters. The Boeing aircraft was the only one to come in under the $7.7 billion budget approved by parliament.
The tender has since been adjusted, although Jung declined to give details on the cost of the 40 F-35s, which is awaiting both finance ministry and parliamentary approval.
"If we choose to buy F-35s, we will choose to buy the F-35A that has been adopted by the US Air Force," he said, adding they would be delivered from 2018 onwards.
The F-35A takes off and lands conventionally. The F-35B variant can land vertically, like the obsolete Harrier plane, and its users will include the US Marines and Britain's armed forces.
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