Military leaders in Seoul are showing signs they may be the next foreign military to join the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter coalition.
South Korea is eyeing a 40-plane buy for 2014 with options to purchase another 20 fighter jets to be delivered to the country's armed forces by 2023, defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told The Wall Street Journal.
The first jets from that 40-plane buy are expected to arrive in South Korea by 2018, Kim said.
South Korean military leaders will consider bids from other weapon makers, according to Kim.
But the country's current strategy to bolster its aging fighter jet fleet comes months after it rejected a $7.7 billion bid from defense giant Boeing to supply Seoul with a fleet of F-15 Silent Eagles, the company's best-selling fighter jet.
Should South Korea opt to add the fighter jet into its arsenal, the country's forces would join the nine other foreign militaries that have decided to field the futuristic fighter jet.
The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Denmark and Norway round out the international Joint Strike Fighter consortium.
Israel and Singapore also plan to buy the F-35, but are not considered part of the original nine.
South Korea's addition to the consortium could give the program a much-needed boost after a series of setbacks in recent years.
In April, Australia announced it would be delaying purchases of the fighter by two years.
That decision came months after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blocked the Ministry of Defense from spending any more money on the country's version of the fighter.
A damning report issued by Canada's auditor general that month alleged that defense officials failed to inform top government decision-makers "of the problems and associated risks" of buying the F-35.
Severe defense spending cuts in the U.K. already have London throttling back its planned purchases of the planes.
On the U.S. side, the fighters' recent failures, combined with the program's massive price tag, have prompted some inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill to call for reductions — or the outright cancellation — of the next-generation jet.
Looming fiscal pressures tied to $500 billion in expected cuts to Defense Department coffers under sequestration have only contributed to that criticism.
With a total cost estimate at more than $400 billion, the F-35 is the most expensive weapon development program in the history of the Pentagon.