South Korea’s F-X Project and Structural Disarmament
Image Credit: Wikicommons

South Korea’s F-X Project and Structural Disarmament


The F-X project in South Korea was initially proposed in the early 1990s, to ultimately replace the country’s F-4 and F-5 fleet and gain air supremacy over North Korea. Following the financial crisis of 1997, however, the project was scaled back from an initial plan for 120 fighters to just 40, with 40 F-15Ks being purchased in 2002 (phase 1). Then, in the second phase of the project, another 20 F-15Ks were purchased in 2007.

To reach its original target, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) still needed another 60 next-generation fighters. Thus, the F-X Phase 3 (F-X III) project was launched, with the aim of procuring those 60 additional air fighters to supersede the aging F-4 and F-5 fleet. The plan is to introduce them between 2017 and 2021 at a cost of 8.3 trillion won ($7.3 billion).

But even though the ROK economy has grown steadily over the years and the country has continuously modernized its armed forces, such a rapid increase in military spending on its air force looks to be an almost impossible task, particularly given the major role that ground forces plan in ROK military and the need to prepare for the wartime command takeover in 2015. For this reason alone, the entire F-X III project cost, involving initial procurement and future maintenance, needs to be examined more closely.

Should the project proceed, then given the initial procurement budget and the astronomical maintenance costs, the F-X III could well lead to the structural disarmament of ROKAF. Structural disarmament – a concept first suggested by Thomas Callahan – has its roots in the increased technological sophistication of weapons systems. Technological improvements cost money, making each new generation of weapon system much more expensive. With higher unit costs, fewer systems can be produced and purchased.


Formal bids for the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35 were submitted to the ROK in June 2012. With this project, the ROKAF is seeking to achieve a balance in both the quality and quantity of air power with North Korea and other regional powers by replacing its soon-to-be retired F-4 and F-5 fleet. The ROK Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) will choose the fighter that meets the ROKAF’s Required Operation Capability (ROC) and ceiling cost (8.3 trillion won), and that offers a sound industrial spillover package.

In terms of cost, DAPA will try not to spend more than an initial procurement ceiling; however, since the second round of bidding ended unsuccessfully on June 28, various options have been discussed, such as increasing the budget, breaking up the purchase, or reducing the number of air fighters. DAPA is also interested in industrial spillover, through offsetting trade and technology transfer. In particular, it seeks to acquire relevant technology for the KFX (Korean Fighter eXperimental) project.

The ROC for the F-X project is classified and so it is hard to get concrete information. However, based on government leaks and the ROK’s security threat assessment, one can speculate. First, to prepare for the wartime command takeover in 2015, ROKAF wants to be equipped with an independent deep and precise operational capability vis-à-vis the North Korean center of gravity and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) production and storage units.

Most North Korean WMD production units and storage facilities are situated in the mountainous areas near the Russian and Chinese borders. This is far enough away to be well protected from U.S.-South Korea alliance artillery and short- to mid-range missiles. A deep and precise operational capability that can paralyze the North Korean wartime command and neutralize key asymmetric warfare assets is thus highly desirable.

August 31, 2013 at 13:45

North Korea isn't waiting.

August 20, 2013 at 04:51

why not go with a low cost modern alternative like the gripen and then wait until the stealth technologies are more mature?

Another Guest
July 22, 2013 at 19:31

Take a look at this awesome looking model of the Boeing's upgraded F-15E Strike Eagle model at AFA.

I wonder if the F-15SE variant will eventually have two outer-wing weapons stations activated?

July 20, 2013 at 21:45

Their gonna go with the F-15.

This whole scharade has been just to get a better deal out of Boeing which they did.

The goal is to replace aging F-4s and F5s. Watch Japan get trapped into the F-35 like everyone else.

An upto date F-15 with all the latest parts and upgrades will keep up with the unproven F-35 if it ever manages to fly.


Another Guest
July 20, 2013 at 18:57

So for more information of why the F-35 can't cut it on the modern battlefield.

Another Guest
July 20, 2013 at 18:53

Also the F-35 is way too expensive, it's a compromise aircraft designed to work for all 3 services. As a result it has degraded capability. Whenever you make something that does everything, it actually does everything poorly. I cannot understand how contractors and pentagon brass still make this type of basic mistake. The F-35 has too many bells and whistles make for a poor anything; poor performance, difficult to operate, poor reliability and extreme cost.

Part of what South Korea needs is value for money currently; the F-35 is not value for money at $130+m plus per plane that is crazy money. The F-15SE will be much better value for money at least they have two engines and actually can fly operationally. The F-35 aircraft $130+m each plus through life cost. The advanced F-15SE a lot less plus through life cost, about $100m saving per plane upfront. Also $130+m plus per F-35 is not yet fixed it is most likely going to rise before delivery. Also the F-35 doesn't come with software source code which of course will increase through life cost as Lockheed rip off South Korea for updates and software maintenance. The F-35 is very expensive upfront and to keep flying the most expensive plane if South Korea ever considers buying this "fat pregnant pig".

South Korea really needs to consider acquiring better and proven aircraft to fulfill RoKAF's future defence needs by cancelling the failed F-35A "Bankrupter" or Joke Still Flying" (JSF) programme, this cannot be done by providing their military people with an overpriced day 2 or day 3 fat slow aircraft that is not yet past the development phase and will take years to be operational beyond 2020. My bet is that the F-15SE Silent Eagle is a far better option to replace the F-4 and F-5 aircraft.

The F-35 needs to be flushed down the toilet for FX-III programme ASAP.

TV Monitor
July 20, 2013 at 01:05

The F-X is down to this; the government will consider only bids on budget, and right now the sole viable candidate left is Boeing's Silent Eagle, whose bid is $220 million(3%) over budget. Boeing has expressed an willingness to continue the negociation and close that $220 million price gap to reach an agreement. Lockheed Martin's F-35 bid $1.5 billion over budget and cannot win, and its sole hope is the cancellation of current bidding and opening a new no-bid negociation. The EADS appears unwilling to price-compete, so they too stand on no chance of a win.

So only two possible outcomes are possible, either a Boeing win or the cancellation of the bidding contest and starting anew, presumably a no-bid FMS negociation with the USAF on F-35 FMS sales, while this is highly unlikely due to the parliament opposition. My bet is a 90% chance of a Boeing win.

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