South Korean pilots are moving ahead with their evaluation of the competing warplanes, but industry executives and aerospace analysts have said they do not expect Seoul to pick a winner until after the country’s presidential election in December. A contract award was initially expected in October.
Officials at the South Korean embassy in Washington declined comment on any delay in a contract decision.
South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), which is running the competition, has said it has no fixed time schedule to pick a winner. “We don’t know how long it will take because we will have thorough investigation and negotiation without being bound by any time period,” the agency said in a statement in early September.
John Pike, an analyst with globalsecurity.org, said it made sense for Seoul to wait until after the election to announce its decision, instead of taking a chance that the contract award could be reversed by a new government.
He said he expected Seoul to pick the more advanced Lockheed fighter, noting that last year Japan chose Lockheed to build a fleet of 42 F-35 planes and that China has developed its own stealth fighter.
“At the end of the day, the Japanese did not want to be a generation behind. They did not want to be the last major military power without a stealthy aircraft, and I think the Koreans are going to go the same way,” Pike said.
Boeing is counting on nearly 40 years of ties with Seoul, which already owned 60 of an earlier version F-15, and the F-15’s lower cost to tip the competition in its favor.