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S. Korea considers building own stealth fighter jets
SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military is considering developing its own stealth fighter jets to help effectively deter North Korea, a source said Monday, amid heightened tension following the North's deadly bombardment on a border island.

   Under a multi-billion-dollar project launched in 2000, South Korea plans to develop an indigenous, multi-role fighter by 2020. The main priority of the project, code-named "KF-X," is aimed at producing a fighter with higher capabilities than a KF-16 class fighter.

   However, the military is shifting the focus of the project to build its own stealth fighter in the wake of the North's Nov. 23 shelling on Yeonpyeong Island that killed two marines and two civilians, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

   "The basic concept for the Korean-style fighter to be developed from 2015 to 2020 is being changed to develop a stealth fighter to evade the enemy's air-radar system," the source said.

   "The concept has been taking more concrete shape since North Korea's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island," the source said.

   At a time when North Korea's threats of missiles and nuclear programs are growing, there has been a "common understanding" within the military that it should develop a stealth fighter to deter and cope with those threats, according to the source.

   "If our military owns stealth fighters, it could put significant psychological pressure on the North Korean leadership," the source said.

   Since the Nov. 23 shelling, South Korea has held a series of military drills, either on its own or with the United States. The South's military staged a live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong last week, ignoring repeated North Korean threats of retaliation.

   The North's bombardment on Yeonpyeong, a tiny island that is home to a fishing community and marine bases near the tense Yellow Sea border with North Korea, was the first attack on a civilian area on the South's soil since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

   South Korean military officials, under intense criticism over what many called feeble responses to North Korea's shelling, have pledged to hit back hard if Pyongyang attacks again. Such a response would include the use of air power.

   The two Koreas are still technically at war after the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a permanent peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.

   kdh@yna.co.kr
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