WASHINGTON ― Will Lockheed Martin ask Korea to pick the firm's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as its next-generation fighter jet in return for helping the country sell its T-50 Golden Eagle to the United States?
In a roundtable meeting between President Park Geun-hye and U.S. business representative, Lockheed Martin Chairman Marillyn Hewson made the promise for the T-50 manufactured by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).
"As Lockheed Martin invested in the production of the T-50, the company said that it will help KAI win the U.S. Air Force's trainer procurement project," said Cho Won-dong, Park's senior secretary for economic affairs.
Observers point out that the proposal would be attractive to Korea, which has desperately tried to export the T-50 to little avail excluding a small sale to Indonesia.
If the major U.S. defense and aerospace company throws its weight behind it, KAI could win a contract for about 350 aircraft. The bidding procedure is expected to start next year.
"To garner full support and help from Lockheed, Korea might feel pressured to buy the U.S. outfit's F-35 as its next-generation fighter," said one Seoul analyst.
Korea is looking to purchase 60 fighter jets at a cost of 8.3 trillion won ($7.7 billion) to replace its aging F-4s and F-5s. It is scheduled to make a final decision next month.
Along with the F-35, Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofigher made by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) are competing to win the contract.
Korea started to develop the advanced trainer in the late 1990s with its maiden flight taking place in 2002. It entered active service with the South Korea Air Force in the mid-2000s.
Lockheed Martin paid around $300 million of the development costs, or 17 percent of the total. If KAI exports the T-50, Lockheed can receive royalty payments on each plane sold.
"If the T-50 is chosen, KAI should procure more than 50 percent of its components in the United States under relevant regulations," a company official said.
"Lockheed Martin would be responsible for most of these, which will benefit the U.S. company."
The first export order for the T-50 was received in 2011 from Indonesia for 16 aircraft worth $400 million.