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Controversy erupts over simulation test of F-35 in fighter jet purchase
SEOUL, June 7 (Yonhap) -- A plan to conduct performance tests of Lockheed Martin's F-35 using simulators, not an actual test flight by a South Korean pilot, has stirred up controversy here as Seoul prepares to buy an advanced fleet of stealth fighters.

   Boeing's F-15 SE, Lockheed's F-35 and EADS Eurofighter are competing to win a huge deal worth upward of 10 trillion won (US$8.5 billion) to sell 60 combat fighters to South Korea, which will choose a supplier in October.

   On-site performance tests will be held in June for the F-35, in August for the F-15 SE and in September for the Eurofighter, according to officials at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), South Korea's state arms procurement agency, on Thursday.

   While Boeing and EADS agreed to carry out performance tests through actual flights with a Korean pilot on board, Lockheed refused to do so, saying the radar-evading warplane is not in service and still under development.

   The flight-test schedule of the single-seat F-35 has been delayed, raising concerns over rising costs and that the aircraft may not be available until 2020.

   "Because the F-35 is now under development, only F-35 pilots can fly it," a DAPA official said.

   Instead, the DAPA asked Lockheed to conduct performance tests with simulators and a Korean pilot on board a different fighter jet and tracking the F-35, the official said.

   The plan, however, has raised questions about proper performance tests.

   The U.S. government is the main customer and financial contributor for Lockheed's F-35 program, valued at more than $300 billion. Also, eight countries, including Britain, Canada and Turkey, are taking part in the largest weapons program in history by shouldering some development costs.

   South Korea has purchased 60 of Boeing's F-15 fighter jets since 2002 under the first two stages of the fighter modernization program, code-named "F-X."

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