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Korea to test-fly the F-35 Lightning II

May 26, 2014 (by Lieven Dewitte) - An evaluation team from the Republic of Korea Air Force will test the F-35 Lightning II before signing a deal to purchase 40 of them. A 10-man team will visit the Lockheed-Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas today for two weeks of tests.

The Joint Strike Fighter FMS includes a high-fidelity 360-degree visual display system and a reconfigurable cockpit that simulates all three aircraft variants for U.S. and international partner services. [Lockheed Martin photo]

An official of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) stated they mainly want check to see if anything has changed since the 2012 test.

However, just like in 2012, they will not be able to fly the actual jet as they have not gained approval from the U.S. government and because a pilot needs to take a six-month training before his first solo-flight. Instead, the test flight will be carried out on a flight simulator, while a Korean pilot will follow an actual F-35 test-flight in a chase plane. There will be a runway test at the plant as well.

Korea decided to buy the F-35 Lightning II in November to replace its aging F-4 Phantoms and F-5 Tiger IIs in its fighter requirement program, better known as the "F-X III competition."

While critics say it is nonsense to buy the expensive aircraft based on simulation tests, Lockheed Martin ensures that the F-35 simulator enables pilots to practice all missions and all tasks. "It is more realistic and is one of the only simulators where you can actually perform all of the missions of the airplane in the simulator," Art Tomassetti, program manager for the Marine Corps F-35 version, said in March.

Along with the Air Force contingent, negotiators from DAPA will also visit the United States during the same period and talk with U.S. government officials about the procurement price and offset program.

As the F-35 will be purchased through government-to-government foreign military sales (FMS), U.S. government officials will participate in the negotiations on behalf of Lockheed Martin.

In March, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program executive officer, said the cost of an F-35 in 2019 would be somewhere between $80 and $85 million, when the full-rate production brings economies of scale to international purchasers.

For the offset package, DAPA plans to seek more commitments for the nation's indigenous fighter program, codenamed KF-X.

"The top priority is a technical transfer for the KF-X. Along with what Lockheed Martin offered last year, we will try to secure more advanced technology," the official said.

DAPA plans to sign a letter of acceptance with the U.S. government by July before finalizing the contract by the end of the third quarter.

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