August 26, 2013
Boeing's F-15SE Silent Eagle has been selected as the only qualified bidder in South Korea's F-X Phase 3 competition for 60 fighters—but the country's air force is lobbying to overturn the decision in favor of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
A win in South Korea would extend the F-15 production line into the next decade and launch an improved version that could compete for future fighter requirements in the 2020s. That outcome seems likely following the decision of the South Korean purchasing authority, the Defense Acquisition Program Agency (DAPA), to eliminate first the F-35 as too costly and then the Eurofighter Typhoon for a bidding irregularity—although EADS, representing the consortium in the South Korean deal, disputes DAPA's decision.
A cross-government committee chaired by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin will meet next month to rule on DAPA's decision. The review group will include air force officers, a member of the parliament's defense committee, an official from the finance ministry and the heads of DAPA and the Agency for Defense Development, which wants to lead indigenous industry in the development of its own stealthy fighter, the KF-X (AW&ST April 29, p. 46).
The finance ministry may back DAPA's fiscally conservative choice, but the air force has already shown its colors in fighting for the F-35.
“Some in the air force complain that the F-X Phase 3 is veering onto a wrong course, contrary to original aims,” the Yonhap news agency reported Aug. 20, a few days after DAPA's decision was disclosed. The “original aim,” as seen by the unnamed officers quoted by Yonhap, was evidently an F-35 order, and their attitude seems to be that the other two contenders were invited to bid just for the sake of creating competition.
This is a sensitive point. After competing for the F-X Phase 1 program, which the F-15 won in 2002, Dassault appears to have concluded that it had never had a chance and that the competition, for South Korea's benefit, was a waste of time and money in which its product was rejected in public. The French company said it had decided it could not work in South Korea and it would not take part in future competitions there. True to its word, it has not been a contender in either F-X Phase 2, also won by the F-15, or F-X Phase 3.
DAPA says that in F-X Phase 3 it excluded one contender—identified by local media as EADS—because the bidder, with the aim of reducing its price, changed previously agreed conditions of its offer without South Korea's consent. The contentious change was EADS's alteration of its offer from 45 single-seat and 15 two-seat Typhoons to 54 and six, respectively. EADS says there was no such agreement.