Seoul Air Show Boosted by Korean Fighter, UAV, Helo and Missile Requirements

 - October 28, 2011, 11:00 AM
Boeing has designed the F-15SE Silent Eagle with Korea’s FX-III requirement in mind, but defense officials there appear to favor the Lockheed F-35. (Photo: Boeing)

Ongoing major requirements and a growing defense budget in the Republic of Korea prompted a big showing by major aerospace companies from Europe and Israel, as well as the U.S., at the Seoul Air Show in mid-October. Show organizers claimed that nearly two-thirds of the 313 exhibitors were from 30 foreign countries.

Much attention was focused on the “FX-III” requirement for 60 more combat aircraft, a $7 billion-plus program for which a request for proposals is due in January, followed by a selection next October. The Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle, Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 were all pitched heavily at the show, but the lack of presence by Sukhoi and relevant Rosboronexport officials suggested that the T-50 PAKFA might not be in contention, contrary to earlier reports.

According to The Korea Times, the majority of officials in the Korean Defense Acquisition Administration (DAPA) favor the Lockheed F-35. The newspaper reported the head of DAPA saying that the Typhoon had no chance unless its makers “come up with a deal that offsets the [Republic of Korea’s] alliance with the U.S., which has made a huge investment and sacrifice for the defense of our nation for decades.”
Eurojet was reported to be offering 60-percent local manufacture of the Typhoon’s EJ200 engines, and eyeing a follow-on application in the indigenous KF-X development. DAPA officials showed twin-engine, twin-tail concepts of the stealthy KF-X, and confirmed that Indonesia is planning a 20-percent stake. The Republic of Korea is also wooing Turkey, the other country with which it has already developed bilateral defense procurement ties.

Having apparently overcome U.S. export constraints, Northrop Grumman was promoting the Global Hawk and crafting offsets with four local companies against a potential order of four UAVs. But IAI and Elbit were also at the show, promoting the Heron TP and Hermes 900 and their associated ground systems respectively. Elbit has already sold Skylark mini-UAVs to the Republic of Korea.

The Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) Surion medium utility helicopter made its first airshow appearance. Development of the Puma look-alike powered by twin GE T700 turboshafts was “outstandingly on time,” according to design partner Eurocopter. The first of 245 troop transports for the Republic of Korea Army is due for delivery in next year’s third quarter. An anti-ship and anti-submarine version to fly from the Republic of Korea’s light frigates and escorts is under development, with Elbit joining KAI and Eurocopter as partners.

The Korean navy currently operates 23 upgraded AgustaWestland Lynx naval helicopters, and the Anglo-Italian company is promoting the AW159 Wildcat as the replacement. The Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky MH-60 could be another contender.

Meanwhile, Eurocopter said that a joint venture named KAI-EC has been set up to promote export sales of the Surion that could reach 300 over the next 10 years. Eurocopter said it is also cooperating with KAI to meet the Republic of Korea’s two attack helicopter requirements. It is proposing the Panther for the light attack role, and the Tiger for the heavy attack role.

Also, eyeing the light attack requirement, Boeing brought the AH-6i to the show.
The missile threat from North Korea has prompted the Republic of Korea to explore joint development of the Cheolmae surface-to-air missile system with Russia. But Lockheed Martin officials at the show were pushing instead for Korea to upgrade its PAC-2 Patriot SAMs to PAC-3 standard, and to buy the THAAD system. For shorter-range missile threats, Rafael was promoting the Iron Dome system.