April 15, 2013
A quarter of a century after the requirement emerged, South Korea is within months of finalizing its F-X fighter program. A decision on F-X Phase 3 will be made by June, and three international companies are vying for the contract.
The Pentagon officially notified Congress of the potential sale of 60 Boeing F-15 Silent Eagles or Lockheed Martin F-35s as South Korea's minister of foreign affairs, Yun Byung-Se, was meeting earlier this month with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon. These formal offerings coincidentally come as North Korea grows increasingly bellicose against its southern neighbor and the U.S.
Boeing is proposing a hybrid sale where the F-15 Silent Eagle would be excluded from the foreign military sale of the subsystems, and thus not disclosed in the price. The company says the cost of the subsystems—the active, electronically scanned array radar; infrared search-and-track targeting system; secure radios; advanced displays and mission-planning systems as well as an airborne GPS receiver is $2.408 billion.
The price of the actual aircraft was not disclosed. However, Brad Jones, who managed the concept at its unveiling in 2009, said at the time that the cost of a new Silent Eagle would be roughly $100 million.
Lockheed Martin's offering of F-35As is priced at $10.8 billion, including the aircraft, each with a Pratt & Whitney F135 engine and nine spares, and the 3F software package, says Eric Schnaible, a company spokesman. The 3F is slated for use by the U.S. Air Force, and includes more weapons and offensive capabilities than the rudimentary 3I, the first release slated for foreign customers.
The third available type is the Eurofighter Typhoon, and operational issues are not the only factors in Seoul's decision. Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) would likely build, or at least assemble, 48 Typhoons if South Korea bought that aircraft, according to industry officials. KAI would also be assured of at least as large a role for the Silent Eagle. The Korean manufacturer is already building major assemblies of the F-15K, which won the earlier F-X Phase 1 and 2 competitions, held last decade to partly fill a requirement that first emerged in 1988.
South Korea could make the center wing box and tail surfaces of the F-35 as a second-source supplier for the global program, says Lockheed Martin. The company is negotiating with Japan on how much of the stealth fighter will be built in that country, which chose it in late 2011. Japan will also have an assembly line but South Korea is not seeking one.