South Korea reject F 15 SE, will FX III Restart

Korea decided Tuesday not to select Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle (SE) as its next generation fighter, meaning that the $7.5 bil. project will start again from scratch. The nation’s arms procurement agency said it recommended the Boeing fighter jet to its top decision-making committee, chaired by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, but the latter did not pick the company as a provider of 60 new aircraft to replace the Air Force’s older jets.

“The committee reached the decision after an in-depth discussion based on a comprehensive evaluation,” Defense Acquisition Program Agency (DAPA) spokesman Baek Youn-hyeong said in a briefing. He added that DAPA will promptly restart the project to minimize the security vacuum by consulting related organizations to revise the total budget and requirements.

The Ministry of National Defense said that the current security situation heavily affected the committee’s decision.

“A majority of the committee members agreed to reject the F-15 and restart the project, taking into consideration North Korea’s threats including nuclear weapons and the latest advances in aerospace technology development,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

“They agreed that the Air Force needs fifth-generation combat jets to keep pace with the latest trend and to deter provocations by North Korea.”

In response, Boeing said it was “ deeply disappointed ” by the decision. “ 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 option, ” it said in a statement.

With no decision, the introduction of new planes might be further delayed for up to a couple of years. The program has been put back four times since last October, which has pushed the first delivery date to August 2017 from December 2016. Following the arms procurement agency’s extended bidding from June to August, Boeing remained the lone bidder within the 8.3 trillion won budget. However, due to the public image of the F-15 SE being developed from a 1970s F-15 platform and having limited stealth functions, the aircraft faced strong opposition.

Boeing stressed that improvements would have included its newest radar system.

“We can deliver the APG-82 AESA radar and the Korean Air Force would be the first, other than the U.S. Air Force, to use the system,” said a Boeing official.

Despite the improvements, the stealth function seems to have doomed the Silent Eagle, which was to have featured a conformable weapons bay and radar-absorbent material.

To make Boeing’s situation worse, 15 retired Air Force chiefs last month sent letters to the National Assembly, presidential office and defense ministry recommending the government acquire an “asymmetric air defense capability,” which prioritizes stealth jets such as the F-35, to protect against North Korea.

The F-X III is aimed at replacing an aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s, but further delays are expected to create a void in the Air Force’s strength as about 140 old jets are to be retired in 2019. Given the possible lack of aircraft in the near future, the Air Force, initially keen to purchase the F-35 due to its stealth capability, changed its stance due to concern over further delays in replacing its older jets.