By Dan Parsons
South Korea has chosen Boeing’s F-15SE as its next-generation fighter aircraft pending approval by the country’s defense acquisition officials.
The F-15 beat out Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon for the $7.4 billion F-X program, which sought an advanced multi-role fighter by 2014. The aircraft will replace Korea’s F-4 Phantom and F-5 fighters.
The F-15SE is a new version of Boeing’s F-15E fighter aircraft that features advanced avionics and can carry weapons internally.
Ray Jaworowski, senior aerospace analyst with Forecast International, foresaw the F-15 as a strong candidate for the F-X program.
“Nothing is in concrete yet, but it seems the F-15 is in the driver seat right now,” he told National Defense. “On the other hand, this is technically not a done deal.”
The decision must be approved by a review board within Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration, which could scrap the program, order another bid process or affirm the F-15 as the F-X winner. A decision from the review board is expected mid-September.
“Going into last week you had three competitors,” Jaworowski told National Defense. “Late last week, what came out was that the F-35 was dropped because it exceeded per-unit cost. It’s always a little iffy in these things because a lot of this news was coming out of the South Korean press.”
Those reports suggested that the F-15 and the Typhoon were the two finalists for the procurement. South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced Aug. 20 that one of the two had been dropped from the competition. DAPA did not reveal the name of the eliminated contender.
Later, a source at EADS, which is a partner company in production of the Typhoon, confirmed their design had lost, Jaworowski said.
The Korean acquisition agency cited unspecified “flaws found in the bidding documents” as a reason for eliminating the Typhoon, according to a statement from Forecast International.
The fighter contest had become a two-way competition only a few days prior, when the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was reportedly dropped from consideration because the submitted F-35 price exceeded South Korea’s budget for the program.
“Price definitely played a part in this and Boeing’s bid is the only one that met it,” Jaworowski said.
Yet, on Aug. 19, Lockheed released a statement that the company had not “received an official notification from the Republic of Korea regarding the results of the price bidding for the F-X Program.”
“The F-X source selection process has multiple phases, and we will continue to work closely with the U.S. government as they offer the F-35 to Korea” the statement read. “Lockheed Martin is honored that Republic of Korea is considering the F-35A to meet its national defense requirements.”
The F-15 had an advantage over other competitors going into the third phase of the F-X program. During the previous two phases, Korea purchased 60 F-15Ks, an earlier variant of the same aircraft.
“Commonality and the attendant cost savings from supply chain and training to operation and maintenance made a big difference, I think,” Jaworowski said.
All is not lost for Lockheed and the F-35. South Korea also flies the F-16 and is in the process of upgrading about 130 of those aircraft with modern avionics, sensors and weapons. But the Korean Air Force will eventually need to replace that aircraft, which is a 1970s-era design.
“At some point, they probably will buy F-35s,” Jaworowski said. Anyone who flies the F-16, as South Korea does, is a serious customer for the F-35 down the road.”