Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and the Eurofighter Typhoon are back in play for South Korea’s F-X III fighter requirement after that country made a sudden decision to reject the last remaining contender, Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle, and restart the procurement process.
An executive committee of South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), chaired by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, met on September 24 and determined that the F-15SE “is not suitable as it lacks stealth features,” according to Yonhap News Agency. The defense ministry opposed the procurement agency’s selection process because it prioritized cost over combat capability, the news service said. A majority of the committee’s members “agreed that the South Korean Air Force needs fifth-generation combat jets to keep pace with the latest trends and to deter provocations by North Korea,” defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told Yonhap.
Under the F-X III program, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) is seeking 60 more multi-role fighters to complement the 60 F-15K Slam Eagles it selected in 2002, a requirement valued at $7.2 billion. Companies submitted final bids for the program in mid-August. The government has now formed a task force of defense ministry, DAPA and ROKAF officials to consider alternatives such as changing the number of fighters to be acquired, increasing the available funding or combining different types of aircraft. The defense ministry expects the process will take about a year, Yonhap reported.
DAPA had earlier ruled out the F-35A and the Eurofighter Typhoon on cost, leaving the F-15SE as the sole contender. As a result of the executive committee’s latest decision, manufacturers of both fighters said they will resubmit proposals for the new competition. Lockheed Martin said it is “honored that Republic of Korea is considering the F-35A to meet its national defense requirements. [We] will comply accordingly to meet their F-X restart requirements, once they become known.”
Similarly, the Eurofighter consortium said it welcomed the DAPA committee’s decision to reconsider the selection. “We support the view that a fighter procurement is not a one-off expense, but a strategic investment in Korea’s defense capability as well as in development of its own aerospace and defense industry,” Eurofighter said. “We intend to support Korea in choosing a proven, reliable and sustainable solution, and one that [provides] major leverage for its own aeronautical development.”
Boeing offered an updated version of the F-15 equipped with the Raytheon APG-63 active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire control radar, digital electronic warfare suite and fly-by-wire flight controls. The F-15SE would have a conformal weapons bay that could be replaced with conformal fuel tanks if required by the mission. The company issued a statement saying it is “deeply disappointed” by the DAPA executive committee’s decision. “We await details from DAPA on its basis for the [program] delay while evaluating our next options,” Boeing said.