South Korea is pushing ahead with the third phase of its fighter recapitalization program, and the short-listed candidates include the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth-generation fighter. It was nominated alongside the Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle for the FX-III requirement, which seeks 60 multirole fighters for around $7.86 billion. A final selection is scheduled for October 2012.
Given South Korea’s political stance and acquisition history, the two U.S. designs would appear to be front-runners. South Korea has harbored an interest in the stealthy F-35 for some time, while it had preferred the Boeing F-15K Slam Eagle to Dassault’s Rafale for the first phase of FX. It initially ordered 40 F-15Ks, and then another 21 in Phase FX-II. Korean industry has a large stake in this program, and Boeing would extend that if the stealth-treated Silent Eagle is selected.
Meanwhile, Eurofighter has invited South Korea to join the four-nation partnership should the Typhoon be chosen. Partner EADS has suggested that the first 10 Eurofighters would come from European production, followed by 24 with Korean-made components, and the remainder to be assembled in Korea.
The credibility of including the Sukhoi T-50 in the shortlist is open to question. In the past, South Korea has acquired several Russian systems, such as the Il-103 trainer, Ansat and Ka-27 helicopters, S-300 SAMs and space technology. The Sukhoi Su-35 was also included in the four candidates for the original FX competition. However, it remains to be seen just how much Russia would be prepared to reveal to the Koreans about the T-50’s technology and capabilities.