The Defense Ministry officially announced plans to purchase stealth bombers capable of avoiding radar detection to counter the threat of North Korea's so-called asymmetrical warfare capabilities.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told reporters on Tuesday the ministry will push for a stealth fighter acquisition project as part of the ongoing F-X fighter program.
The third phase of the F-X program envisages buying 60 high-performance fighters such as the F-15K from the U.S. from around 2015. The Air Force wanted the third phase to start this year, but budget pressure and Cheong Wa Dae's resistance to hasty implementation of an acquisition program worth trillions of won have led to delays.
It received a fresh spur last year when North Korea's military provocations became more unpredictable, China unveiled its home-grown J-20 stealth fighter jet and Japan announced plans to buy Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets.
The Air Force, Defense Ministry and Cheong Wa Dae now reportedly agree the purchase needs to be speeded up. The Air Force decided to launch the third phase of the F-X program next year and start buying stealth aircraft around 2015, since the country's F-4 Phantom and F-5 fighter jets are aging fast.
The stealth fighters would allow the Air Force to launch air raids on strategic targets on its own without the support of the U.S. Forces Korea.
Currently, the U.S. F-22 is seen as the world's best stealth fighter, but its overseas sale is banned until 2015. As a result, the F-35, another model whose performance is a little inferior to the F-22's, is mentioned as a potential candidate.
Boeing's F-15SE Silent Eagle and Eurofighter's Typhoon are also possible candidates. But the Silent Eagle is only an adapted version of the F-15 with some stealth functions and the Typhoon was not developed as a full-blown stealth fighter in the first place, making the F-35 the preferred option.
However, development of the F-35 keeps has been delayed and the price is expected to keep rising and exceed US$100 million.