Defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok almost announced the decision of planned new competition. “There is a consensus that South Korea needs the fifth-generation fighter jet to deter the growing threat posed by North Korea,” Yonhap news quoted him as saying. Only the F-35 meets that definition.
Another difficulty for South Korea is that the F-4 Phantom and F-5 Tiger fighters that F-X Phase 3 is to replace are already of doubtful combat value. The replacements were supposed to arrive between 2017 and 2021.
“Boeing is deeply disappointed by the Republic of Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Executive Committee decision,” says the F-15’s manufacturer. “Boeing has rigorously followed the Defense Acquisition Program Administration’s instructions throughout the entire process. We await details from DAPA on its basis for the delay while evaluating our next options.”
Lockheed Martin says it will continue to support the U.S. government in the process. The F-35 would be sold under the government’s Foreign Military Sales system.
Throughout the competition, EADS and its partners in the Eurofighter consortium always had to wonder whether they were only a stalking horse for the U.S. fighters, especially the F-35. Quite apart from the South Korean air force’s preference for the F-35, South Korea is always under diplomatic pressure to award major defense import contracts to suppliers from the U.S., whose armed forces guarantee its security.
A key question now is whether Eurofighter and Boeing will bid again, especially in view of the defense ministry’s declaration that a “fifth-generation” fighter is needed. Boeing will “explore all of its options,” says an industry source. That will presumably include whether to do more work in developing the F-15SE, which offered limited stealth, advanced avionics integration, and considerable payload-radius, as well as a moderate price in competition with the F-35.
Boeing is under contract to deliver 84 new-build F-15SAs to Saudi Arabia. Though Boeing should finish building them in 2018, the last is due for delivery in 2019. Long lead items would normally be ordered about two years before aircraft delivery, so Boeing appears to have about three years in which to drum up new F-15 business.