SEOUL --- South Korea's Navy has put up a public notice of tender for a research project to explore the possibility of operating F-35B stealth aircraft aboard its amphibious landing ship, officials said Friday.
Last Friday, the Navy initiated the tender through an electronic defense procurement system of the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration, citing moves by neighboring countries to consider running F-38Bs aboard their warships.
The project seeks to study the possible remodeling of the country's 14,000-ton Dokdo-class vessel to host the F-35B fighter, a short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the U.S.-made fifth-generation warplane. The research is set to end by Dec. 15.
Observers speculated that the Navy might seek to run the F-35B on the Marado warship that is currently under construction and slated to be deployed in 2020.
The existing Dokdo ship is seen as capable of operating only transport helicopters because its deck is not made of materials that can withstand high temperatures caused by fighter jet operations.
In 2014, Seoul decided to purchase 40 F-35A fighters for deployment from 2018 through 2021 at a cost of 7.3 trillion won (US$6.4 billion). The F-35A is the fighter's air force variant, while the F-35B and F-35C are for marines and aircraft carrier-based operations, respectively.
There has been speculation that Seoul may consider introducing several F-35Bs as it may have to purchase additional warplanes due to a shortage of warplanes that could occur in the coming years with the decommissioning of F-4s and F-5s.
Japanese media have reported that Tokyo's Maritime Self-Defense Force is considering purchasing F-35Bs for its large escort ships.
South Korea's new 14,500-ton amphibious assault ship, Marado, is floated at the shipyard of Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co. in the southern port city of Busan on May 14, 2018.