December 02, 2013
South Korea's decision to sacrifice force structure in favor of buying into stealth with the F-35—a boon for Lockheed Martin's premier fighter program—quashes Boeing's hopes of selling it a semi-stealthy F-15.
Seoul plans to buy 40 F-35As to satisfy its F-X Phase 3 fighter requirement, initially set at 60 aircraft, its joint chiefs of staff announced last month. Another 20 fighters, not necessarily F-35s, may be ordered later, subject to security and fiscal circumstances. The choice was influenced by overwhelming support in the South Korean military for the F-35. The buy was cut by one-third to keep it within an 8.3 billion won ($7.2 billion) budget.
Though it is a long shot, Boeing is still pushing the Silent Eagle for the remaining requirement of 20 fighters. Dennis Muilenburg, president of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, said in October that the country might be open to a mixed buy, and news of Seoul's F-35 decision has not changed that position.
“The Silent Eagle is still available,” Karen Fincutter, a Boeing spokeswoman, said last week, adding that the company had not yet been officially notified of South Korea's decision. “It's one of the upgrade options for the F-15.”
The other contender for South Korea's fighter program, the Eurofighter consortium, led by EADS in South Korea, also seems to have a remote chance of filling the later 20-aircraft order with the Typhoon.
Lockheed Martin is expected to deliver the aircraft over four years beginning in 2018. If the F-35 is selected, the other 20 would immediately follow.
The air force effectively chose the F-35 about two weeks ago when, according to local media reports, it set a numerical requirement for radar cross-section. This followed the derailment of the original competition in August, when it was revealed that only Boeing could meet the budget. Instead of completing the competition in the usual way by giving the order to a particular company, the government decided to review its requirements, budget and process.