A 'Stealth' Showdown in South Korea
Image Credit: Wikicommons

A 'Stealth' Showdown in South Korea


The FX-III competition to provide South Korea with 60 new fighter aircraft is being decided at a transitional moment in the history of manned fighters.

On one side sits the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, Lockheed Martin’s winning design for the U.S. and UK’s future multi-role fighter requirement. It’s the F-22’s single-engine little brother: a stealthy platform built for strike and air defense, laden with sensors and the epitome of modern, network-centric warfare. It’s also delayed, over-budget and has the unwanted distinction of being known as the trillion-dollar plane.

On the other side sits the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle – the latest, stealthy version of the F-15E Strike Eagle – and the Eurofighter Typhoon: two late Cold War-era aircraft that have been re-roled and upgraded for the new missions and realities of 21st century air warfare.

Despite the many strengths of both the F-15 and the Typhoon (more of which later), FX-III should be a one-horse race. The conventional take-off F-35A being offered to South Korea is the U.S. Air Force’s replacement for the venerable F-16, while in Asia-Pacific it is due to enter service with Australia and Japan – both nominal South Korean allies, and probably Singapore too. In the words of numerous USAF leaders, in fighter terms it is “the only show in town,” and if you believe Lockheed Martin, it is head and shoulders above the competition in terms of technology and capabilities.

The FX-III program also comes at a good time for the F-35, which this year has actually beaten its test schedule with a series of missile drops and firings, ironed out problems with the carrier and vertical take-off versions, and started ramping up to full production. It also has momentum on its side: South Korea’s FX-III contest follows hot on the heels of Japan’s F-X fighter program – also to replace 1970s-era F-4 Phantoms. The F-35 won in Tokyo in December 2011, beating the Typhoon and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet.

November 10, 2012 at 05:53

That applies to everybody. You, me, him, her, them, us. Every. Body.

Other Guest
November 10, 2012 at 04:53

Yeah what he said!

November 8, 2012 at 13:02

That sounds odd, because the reports I've heard that the AGM-158 JASSM lists as already integrated on USAF F-15E fleet. Meanwhile, the F-15Ks remain capable of firing Boeing’s AGM-84K SLAM-ER cruise missiles.  

November 7, 2012 at 23:32

I knew you were from Aus Air Powers.
So whats your recommendations for SK F-15 or Eurofighter?
All the discussion here is arm chair generaling at best. Only if F-35s can be pitted against the Sukhois in real combat not even Red Flag can we say which one is superior

November 7, 2012 at 20:37

To all pro-F-35 advocates.
The majority of voices you hear from LM (Lockheed Martin) are telling you folks the F-35 is a fine aircraft for FX-III requirement that the APG-81 AESA radar is a defensive device against enemy terminal radar, has a very potent credible defensive jamming equipment to jam the Russian/Chinese fighters radars, IADS, missiles and AAAs, cheap to acquire at $60 or $70 million for R&D, own and maintain, carries more weapons load, long range, faster acceleration and rapid turn rate than its predecessors and from Stephen O’Bryan stated.
"The aircraft's stealth will actually get stealthier over time — without any upgrades. To be clear, every other stealth warplane has steadily lost its ability to dodge enemy radars owing to wear and tear on the plane’s special skin coating. Not so the F-35. The single-engine JSF, which is projected to cost $1 trillion to develop, buy and maintain, is fundamentally different than its predecessors. The surface material smooths out over time, slightly reducing the F-35’s original radar signature".
What you see and hear about its performance and its effectiveness is all based on a marketing PowerPoint slides to make you believe the aircraft is suitable for South Korea and other countries with wrong facts that make you clueless what you're talking about.

November 7, 2012 at 19:30

@ Para
Go back and read my comments above carefully I've posted earlier on.
Your comment: "I know, its just a blog, but a lazily written article repeating popular myths is just embarassing".
My comments is not lazily written and not repeating popular myths is not embarassing and I've combined the information what I've accessed from the defence industry. I certainly compared the actual fact sheets about these systems, including weapons loadouts, useful range, flight profiles etc, which is what you should be doing compared to the Sukhoi family, J-20 and J-31.  
You're just clueless to state the F-35 is a right aircraft for the FX-III requirement.

November 7, 2012 at 19:10

@ Bert
The F-35s are chickenfeed to the Sukhoi's. The F-35's high power jammer will have this capability but will likely be unusable against the most likely high threat scenarios. Again, the F-35 is the world's first trillion-dollar plane that will certainly fail the air defence requirement – so it must be very, very bad.
Read more on "Assessing Joint Strike Fighter Air Combat Capability" on Air Power Australia.
For instance, the electronic warfare capabilities of the Su-35S Super Flanker-E are also more extensive than in earlier Flankers-Bs. A comprehensive internal ESM/RWR system is fitted. Wingtip KNIRTI SAP-518 series phased array EWSP jamming pods are the baseline, with 5 to 18 GHz coverage against SAM engagement radars, SAM seekers and fighter radars. A large centreline SAP-14 pod can be carried for support jamming, this 1 to 4 GHz design being analogous to US ALQ-99 pods on the EA-18G Growler, but using electronic rather than mechanical beam steering. A Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) and expendables are carried. To enhance the potency of the EWSP suite, extensive treatment with radar absorbent materials has been applied, following the model used in the F/A-18E/F and F-15SE, with Russian claims of a thirty fold reduction in frontal X-band signature. In practice, external stores will impair signature gains much as in the Boeing fighters.
The F-35 is neither balanced survivability nor a true stealth 5th generation aircraft. The F-35 has no credible defensive jamming. Those selling the idea that the F-35's AESA radar as a defensive device against enemy terminal radar concerns aren't believable. Power output limits, thermal concerns along with the limited field of view and in-band frequency limits make the idea of the F-35 radar as a defensive solution of little value. It is only useful on a marketing PowerPoint slide to the clueless Bert. And, unlike the designers of the F-22, the F-35 will not be in possession of true stealth, high-speed and high altitude to help degrade enemy no-escape-zone firing solutions of weapons. The thrust-vectoring on the F-22 is also an aid for quickly changing direction at Mach and not just sub-sonic speed.

sun da pao
November 7, 2012 at 14:26

IMHO, get a mixture of 2 types:
1) F-35A + F-35B
2) F-15SE or Euro-Typhoon
Gel the two onto ones doctrine, realize ones strategic imperative, fight as one.
The F-35s are exorbitantly $$$ ! Nevertheless, they are still 5th gen strike/fighters, they can fulfill specific mission objectives in the overall strategic scheme.
But because the F-35s are so expensive, one will tend to lose out in the numbers game. Numerical supremacy/quantity is still relevant in the 21st century 5th gen warfare. (The lessons of SS Tigers vs. Russian T-34s come to mind during WWII). Also, ones potential aggressor's 5th gen inventory cannot be limitless. Legacy systems make up the numbers.
for SK, they are familiar with the F-15 platform, so it will be easier to go with the F-15SE, in terms of logistics and training.
But the potential adversarial of the US of A has done a lot of homework over the years to counter/defeat "Made In America" systems. So maybe SK might want to "diversify" towards European design. Not to mention tedious American legislative prohibition on weapon system export.
It is not only about the gizmo, but training, training and more training. Gelling the 5th gen and legacy (but still pack a potent punch) system into an integrated fighting machine. Easier said than done. LOL.

November 7, 2012 at 07:08

JSF “heads and shoulders” above the competition in cababilities? I know, its just a blog, but a lazily written article repeating popular myths is just embarassing. Please compare actual fact sheets about these systems, including weapons load-outs (not just mass, but actual weapons carried in useful configurations), useful range, flight profiles etc. Maybe it would dawn on a fair few people, why this aircraft is called “strike” and not multi-role or air superiority fighter.

If the Koreans too want to pay a lot of money for not a lot of aircraft, they should definitely go for JSF.

Captain America
November 7, 2012 at 03:23

There is one big problem with the F-15K. The right-handed  JSSM won't fit on the left- handed F15K.. From UPI:

SEOUL, Nov. 5 (UPI) — A South Korean plan to arm F-15K fighters with U.S.-made Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles has reportedly hit a snag.
The Korea Times, quoting a senior South Korean procurement official, reports that the air-to-ground missile doesn't fit the aircraft because of a missile design inconsistency.
"To install the JASSMs in both wings of the F-15K, either F-15K's pylon or the JASSM's upper wing should be modified, but it would cost a lot," the official said.
The report said the finding could delay South Korea's project to purchase a standoff missile system.
The Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile is manufactured by Lockheed Martin and is a precision cruise missile with a range of about 230 miles — less than its German competitor, Taurus System's standoff missile.
South Korean tests indicated the JASSM doesn't fit the F-15K since the missile's upper wing folds only to the left side. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been queried about ways to fit the missile onto the aircraft but have not responded, the official said.

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2012/11/05/South-Korea-has-problem-with-JASSM/UPI-51641352147459/#ixzz2BT5XfrU3

November 6, 2012 at 17:13

Man, ya have forgotten the F-35 is able to jam the very advanced radar carried by the F-22. As such others like Sukhoi are chickenfeed to the F-35. Anyway, the F-35 is the world's first trillion-dollar plane so it must be very, very good. 

November 6, 2012 at 10:46

My bet is the F-15SE.
F-15s have been used successfully by ROKAF, and like the author states, that SE variant shares many commonalities with the K variant is a very attractive factor, especially seen in past patterns.
Eurofighter is a good bet too, since even within the ROK military command (traditionally very pro-US) people are acknowledging the problem of heavy dependence on US equipment. There is a growing sense of SK being treated as a second-rate ally in respect to Japan, and there's a creeping demand for less dependency on US diplomatic and military power. Though distant, the increasing trade with the Euro zone (slowed by current crisis) and less dependency on the US market for the SK export machine, can also play a role in building a trend.
F-35 has the "stealth" and "wow" factors but not much else, if viewed in cost-benefit terms. It cost too damn much for what you get, that is, what you would be able to use in the near future. The F-35 sales rep asserts ROKAF wants capabilities to strike strategic targets in NK, but this desire is overstated, as SK government is still more focused on containing sporadic outbursts of provocation, which it can handle without investing billions in stealth tech.
Fifth generation fighters are going to be important in the future, but there's no hurry to acquire them right at the moment. Of course, the regional developments and the desire to build up domestic aeronautics industry by acquiring cutting edge tech (which is a very real impulse within the govt and also the industry itself, due to lucrative export potential) may drive SK to lean towards F-35.
BUT there's one problem: US govt and the LM is very weary of EVEN allowing F-35 to be produced in SK UNDER LICENSE, and they are preventing the ROKAF delegates to even test the platform before buying (they were recently offered to use remote control, instead of their pilots being in the planes, to see what the platform can do, which was viewed as a giant insult to the ROKAF, but more importantly the SK public). 
That's what the article misses. If SK govt sees little opportunites for acquring key techs from the purchase of the Fifrth Gen fighter, the attractiveness of the platform DECREASES INFINITELY.

November 6, 2012 at 10:28

Complete interoperability is overtstated. All three platforms have interoperability with each other and platforms currently in used by USAF, especially given the extensive use of Eurofighter by NATO. 
Besides, it's software capabilities that ultimately determine interoperability, and there's no gap in that aspect among all the candidates. This is especially true b/c NATO successfully deployed Eurofighters in conjunction with USAF air assessts important in coordination, ECW, data uplink, etc. Besides, complete interoperability will only be useful in a scenario where SK and US is against China/Russia, which is unlikely in the near future.
More important is the fact that US allies in East Asia are also planning to purchase F-35, which has a paradoxic effect, in that it forces SK to keep toe to toe with them but also is counterproductive in ECW considerations.

November 6, 2012 at 03:35

…omg. The Eurofighter is not a cold war airplane. The F35 is totally overrated. German and French military observed the British doing their stealth tests 200 miles away. It has an inferiour climbing rate, and, by the way, is only considered by the US as a fifth gen fighter. Due to its lack of supercruise and TV it is nothing but a 4th gen fighter with not so good flying habits.

Amit Parmar
November 6, 2012 at 01:30

I thought America was all about competition? Oh wait, I forgot! Americans only like competition when they are certain they will win. 

November 5, 2012 at 15:06

What about the Eurofighter Typhoon?
Apparently they were offering some attractive technology transfer options offering South Korea a full partnership in the Eurofighter project as well as a complete assembly line in SK.
Although modern updated F-15 can hold their own against the Eurofighter, I believe much more can be squeezed out of the more modern airframe and design of the Typhoon where as the F-15 is already stretching its lifespan.
Also besides SK's air superiority over NK how would SK compete with Japan's F-35 purchases as well as China's own developments.
But IMO, ever since Japan purhcased the F-35 SK has already sealed the deal to do the same. SK must keep up with the nextdoor neighbour.

Canuck Fighter
November 4, 2012 at 14:10

The F-15SE or variant will win the FX-iii because it can be produced and combat operational long before the F-35 can be. Developments such as the conformal weapons pods with Korean manufacturers will also benefit the 61 F-15K's in service. The latest F-15 will all digital flight controls, JHMCS, conformal weapons bay/pods, APG-82 AESA radar and potential GE132 engines is about a similar to the older F15's as a new corvette is to an 80's corvette.  The latest developments for the F-15 program also benefiting from the large Saudi order of up to 80 F-15SA models. 

November 4, 2012 at 11:05

The F-35 should not be the only game in town to build 60 new fighter aircraft for South Korea.
The F-15SE Silent Eagle is a combat-proven aircraft the South Koreans should be considering to fulfill their FX-III requirements instead of the failed F-35.

The F-15 can be modified with the APG-82 AESA, supercruising F110-GE-132 engines with 2-D or 3-D thrust vectoring nozzles which can be considered, DEWS (Digital Electronic Warfare System), NG (Next Generation) 3-D touch screen cockpit display, digital fly-by-wire flight control system, IRST sensor pod etc.

The reason why the F-15 is a combat proven aircraft is because, during action in the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Balkans and recently in Afghanistan the F-15 showed its superior ability to perform missions required of the F-X (Fighter Experimental).

The F-15 family of aircraft has a perfect air-to-air combat record of more than 104 victories and zero defeats. F-15s shot down four MiG-29 fighters during the Balkan conflict and 33 of the 35 fixed-wing Iraqi Air Forces aircraft lost in air combat during Operation Desert Storm. During the Balkan conflict, the F-15E was the only fighter able to attack ground targets around the clock, in all weather conditions. The F-15 aircraft are used by the Air Force against terrorist targets.

The F-15 has a fantastic long range endurance, bigger weapons payload and speed capabilities than its F-X competitors. The aircraft will get into a fight, strike with a lethal mix of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, and return more effectively than the other (small airframes with short range such as F/A-18 Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 JSF) F-X aircraft.

The F-15 is in production. Boeing has built more than 1,500 of all its F-15 models and the company has extended the F-15 production line well into the 2020s to attract and satisfy new and existing customers.

November 4, 2012 at 10:24

I reckon South Korea should stay with the 4th generation aircraft instead of moving on to the 5th generation failure F-35.
The F-35 is a wrong aircraft for the FX-III requirement. It will be inadequate to deal with the changed threat environment which has shown that the aircraft has a lot of limitations and it cannot do a lot of things as expected to show and promise that is a true fifth generation fighter, because it does not meet all the requirements of partner nations. Its fuselage is too overweight which has too much cross section; the wings are too small which lacks the extreme manoeuvrability. The wing planform is optimised for subsonic cruise and transonic manoeuvre which doesn't provide enough lift and drag to defeat Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and Within Visual Range (WVR) air-to-air missiles (AAMs) from enemy fighters in the dogfight and stand-off ranges, advanced surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and ground fire during top end threats. It also has inferior acceleration at Mach 1.6, short range with no loiter time and very limited weapons payload that is unsuited for bomber and cruise missile defence and totally unsuited for air superiority role when compared against Sukhoi family of aircraft, particularly post 2010 configurations; definitely post 2015 evolved growth variants and upcoming J-20 and J-21/31 fifth generation fighters.
The F-35 was defined during the mid-1990s to have “affordable” aerodynamic performance, stealth performance, sensor capabilities and weapons loads to be “affordably” effective against the most common threat systems of that era past – legacy Soviet Cold War era weapons, not for the 21st Century emerging threats. The F-35 is designed primarily to support ground forces on the battlefield with some self defence capabilities and is not suitable for the developing regional environment and, not suitable for close air support missions. The aircraft is unsuited for bomber and cruise missile defence due to limited range/endurance, limited weapons load and limited supersonic speed. As its limitations are inherent to the design, they cannot be altered by incremental upgrades The F-35 will be ineffective against the current generation of extremely powerful advanced Russian and Chinese systems, as detailed above; In any combat engagements between the F-35 and such threat systems, most or all F-35 aircraft will be rapidly lost to enemy fire.
If you have the F-35s that just aren’t capable of dealing with the high threat zones, it just doesn’t do you any good of going ahead with the failed program and sink the money. Because the F-35 will be increasingly expensive aircraft that will fail the air defence program.
"Why will the F-35 fail the FX-III requirement? It has the ability to penetrate heavily defended airspace and hold targets of interest at risk any time you want to. That’s what the F-35 can do because it’s stealthy".
Well unfortunately there's absolutely no point of selecting the F-35 because some hostile nations could well be purchasing the Nebo M Mobile “Counter Stealth” Radar, advanced S-400 and S-500 SAM systems which will make the F-35 obsolete.
If anyone wants to find out more about this counter stealth radar, here's a description if you're interested.

Development initiated late 1990s leveraging experience in Nebo SVU VHF-Band AESA radar;
2012-2013 IOC intended;

Designed from the outset to detect stealth fighters and provide early warning and track data to missile batteries and fighters;

The VHF component will provide a significant detection and tracking capability against fighter and UCAV sized stealth targets;

High off-road capability permits placement well away from built up areas, enabling concealment;

Rapid deploy and stow times permit evasion of air attacks by frequent movement, defeats cruise missiles like JASSM;

Initial Nebo M builds for Russian Air Defence Forces, but expected like other “counter-stealth” radars to be marketed for global export to arbitrary clientele.

The VHF band element in that radar will detect the F-35 at a distance of tens of miles. That is without a doubt. What that means is that the aircraft is going to be in great difficulty if it tries to deal with what I call a modern or contemporary threat. The same is also true when you deal with these newer stealth fighters, because they are designed to compete with the F-22. They fly higher; they are faster and more agile—much, much more agile. They have more powerful radars and much, much better antenna packages for other sensors. The F-35 is not meeting its specifications and its specifications are inadequate to deal with the changed environment.

If the F-35 was to be able to meet its specifications, the aircraft will have the ability of going up against a 1980s Soviet air defence system of the type that we saw destroyed very effectively in Libya 12 months ago, the F-35 would be reasonably be effective in that environment, because these older Soviet radars would not see it.

But if you are putting F-35 up against the newer generation of much, much more powerful Russian radars and some of the newer Chinese radars, the aircraft is quite detectable, especially from behind, the upper side and from the lower sides as well.
Also F-35 will also be detected by the L-Band AESA. It is used for targetting which they’ll be able to track LO/VLO stealth planes such as the F-35 especially from behind, the upper side and from the lower sides as well. Unfortunately the exhaust nozzle of the F-35 will be extremely hot. The back end of the F-35 in full afterburner is something like 1600 degrees (Fahrenheit). In terms of temperature, aluminum combusts at 1100. You are talking about something really, really hot. If you have got a dirty big sensor on the front of your Su-35S or your PAK-FA or whatever, it lights up like Christmas lights and there is nothing you can do about it. And the plume, because of the symmetric exhaust, is all over the place. It is not shielded, it is not ducted in any useful way. The Sukhois will be able to seek and destroy the F-35 when using the heat seeking BVR AA-12 (R-77) Adder AAMs.

The APG-81 AESA radar. The nose geometry of the F-35 limits the aperture of the radar. This makes the F-35 dependent on supporting AEW&C aircraft which are themselves vulnerable to long range anti-radiation missiles and jamming. Opposing Sukhoi aircraft have a massive radar aperture enabling them to detect and attack at an JSF long before the JSF can detect the Sukhoi. It has Medium Power Aperture (0) (Detection range around 140 – 150 nm at BVR)

Compared to which other aircraft's radar?

The N011 Irbis-E (Snow Leopard) for the Su-35S Super Flanker-E

NIIP claims a detection range for a closing 32.3 square feet (3 square metre) coaltitude target of 190 – 250 NMI (350-400 km), and the ability to detect a stealthy aircraft while closing 0.11 square feet (0.01 square metre) target at ~50 NMI (90 km). In Track While Scan (TWS) mode the radar can handle 30 targets simultaneously, and provide guidance for two simultaneous shots using a semi-active missile like the R-27 series, or eight simultaneous shots using an active missile like the RVV-AE/R-77 or ramjet RVV-AE-PD/R-77M.

The PAK-FA will feature the N050 BRLS IRBIS AFAR/AESA?, similar to the Su-35S N011.

* Frequency: X-Band (8 – 12 GHz)
* Diameter: 2 ft 4 in (0.7 m)
* Targets: 32 tracked, 8 engaged
* Range: 248 mi (400 km)
EPR: 32.3 ft² (3 m²): 99.4 mi (160 km) and 0.11 sq.ft (0.01 sq.m) target at ~50 NMI (90 km)
Azimuth: +/-70°, +90/-50°
* Power: 4,000 W
* Weight: 143 to 176 lb (65 to 80 kg)

Again, the F-35 will be detectable from behind the fuselage, the upper side and from the lower sides as well, except for the front area, a conservative estimate for the frontal RCS of the F-35 would be 0.0015 square metre which is only stealthy in the front, this is what I call "Partial Stealth" which the F-35 does have. Because if the situation arises, the Sukhoi family of fighters, upcoming J-20 or J-60 can out-run, out-climb and out-manoeuvre, and be able to track the F-35 using L-band AESA, IRST sensor (from the upper and lower sides and aft fuselage) and launch their AAMs from any altitude at speed etc.

The bad news is, with the changed environment the F-35 will be obsolete when the aircraft arrives in 2018 or later, the US as well the allies are armed with this aircraft will make their air power totally ineffective in the next 30 to 40 years. I'm complaining about Lockheed Martin lying and misleading to the military and the public what they state their facts what the F-35 can do etc etc. And I don't see any contradiction with the way I've promoted these new Russian/Chinese radars etc.

The F-35 is a boondoggle, nothing but a turkey of the program.

November 3, 2012 at 10:48

In the end the f-35 will win.  The only other equal alternative would be to buy twice as many F-15SEs.  They need complete interoperability w/ U.S platforms so I doubt they would go for the Eurofighter. 
The article also does not really mention the fact that if SK does choose the F-35, it would increase the scale of economy in the F-35 program some.  This would not only help SK, but also its allies.  A good number of planes purchased by a country that has a steady defense budget like SK would go a long way towards boosting international F-35 sales.

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