F-35 and Eurofighter Eliminated From S. Korea’s FX-III Competition
Image Credit: Boeing

F-35 and Eurofighter Eliminated From S. Korea’s FX-III Competition


Lockheed and Martin’s Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon have been eliminated from the FX-III competition to build South Korea 60 new fighter jets, Yonhap News Agency reports. That leaves Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle as the only remaining aircraft vying for the contract.

Citing a source who is familiar with the matter, Yonhap reported on Friday that Lockheed Martin had failed to submit a bid that was within South Korea’s 8.3 trillion won ($7.43 billion) budget, effectively eliminating the F-35 from contention.

Then, on Sunday, South Korea’s defense procurement agency, Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), said that EADS had failed to follow procedures. As Yonhap explained the decision: “South Korea is seeking 45 one-seater aircraft and 15 two-seaters. But EADS proposed only six two-seater aircraft, which are costly to produce, due to budget problems.”

South Korea’s FX-III competition was being contested by three aircraft: Lockheed’s F-35, Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle, and the EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon. The F-35 was the early favorite among defense analysts. As James Hardy wrote on The Diplomat last November, the “FX-III should be a one-horse race.”

After 55 rounds, however, DAPA suspended bids for the contract last month after all the ones it received were above the 8.3 trillion won allocated for the program. It reopened bids last week and closed bidding on Friday.

According to Yonhap, both Boeing and EADS submitted bids before Friday that were within the program’s budget, which is the ROK’s largest defense import contract ever. With the elimination of the F-35 and Eurofighter, Boeing’s F-15SE is the only candidate still in contention. DAPA is expected to officially announce the results of its review of the bids next month.

Already, however, EADS objected to its elimination on Monday.

“I would like to stress that Eurofighter's intention has been to provide DAPA, to consider within its discretion, fully within the boundaries of the Request for Proposal (RFP), a bid package that would meet the declared essential budget,” an EADS spokesperson told Yonhap.

The spokesperson went on to say that only a preference as to the amount of twin-seat aircraft had been conveyed to the company, not a mandatory requirement. Additionally, EADS said that offering an alternative option was, a “simple, legitimate and constructive response” to the budgetary constraints South Korea faces.

EADS had tried to strengthen its proposal to Seoul by promising technology transfer, local manufacture of the vast majority of the aircraft, and a US$2 billion investment in Seoul’s aerospace industry.

Lockheed Martin, on the other hand, vowed to continue its bid for the FX-III competition.

 “Lockheed Martin has not received an official notification from the Republic of Korea regarding the results of the price bidding for the F-X Program,” the company said in a statement released over the weekend. “The F-X source selection process has multiple phases and we will continue to work closely with the U.S. government as they offer the F-35 to Korea.”

Unlike the other jets in the competition, which were allowed to offer commercial sales of their products, the F-35 is sold through the foreign military sales (FMS), a U.S. program of government-to-government defense sales. As a result, the U.S. government is able to set the price Lockheed can offer to South Korea.

Although price appears to be the factor that eliminated the F-35 from the FX-III competition, it is another instance of South Korea skirting weapon systems that would tie it to the larger U.S.-led regional alliance system, which China views as antagonistic.

In many ways, it’s unsurprising that Boeing’s F-15SE would prevail in the FX-III competition. The F-15K, a less advanced variant of the F-15E, won in one the first two phases of South Korea’s fighter jet modernization program. In the first phase in 2002, the ROK ordered 40 two-seat F-15K jets from Boeing. It followed up in 2008 with the order of an additional 21 F-15K fighters.

While the F-15SE Silent Eagle has greater stealth radar than the F-15Ks, the F-35 is superior in terms of radar signature reduction. Further, the F-15SE fighter jets are only optimized for air-to-air combat stealth, according to Yonhap.

When The Diplomat asked Boeing’s F-X Campaign Director, Howard Berry, how similar the F-15SEs are to older variants of the F-15, he said:

“The Silent Eagle was designed in response to the needs expressed by current international F-15 operators. Silent Eagle builds on a continuous evolution of capability in the combat-proven F-15 family of aircraft with a bundle of additional advancements that allow us to offer a '2-Aircraft-in-1 Platform' solution that brings an unprecedented balance of survivability and lethality to meet customer needs in all phases of air combat.”

Berry also told The Diplomat:

“The Silent Eagle has range, payload, and versatility advantages that others do not. Furthermore, we recognize that threats faced by Silent Eagle will continue to evolve in the decades ahead. Silent Eagle is uniquely capable in its growth potential given its excess capacity of payload, volume, cooling, power, computer memory and computer throughput thereby well positioning Silent Eagle for incorporation of new advanced systems over the life of its airframe.”

The Diplomat also spoke with Lockheed Martin's F-35 Campaign Director Korea Randall Howard about the F-X program last November.

August 22, 2013 at 03:44

True stealth fighters have to be designed from conception and stealth concepts applied to the whole structure. Hiding the weapons in a weapons bay may add some stealth charecteristics but it doesn't make the F-15SE a true stealth airplane. Even Boeing admits that the F-15SE 's stealth charecteristics will only be equivalent (a challengeable statement) to the F-35 from the frontal aspect. I guess the pilot can hope that the enemy only sees him from the front with its radar.

The US didn't buy any F-15SEs becuase they recognize that they are a modified fourth generation fighter vastly inferior to the F-35.

August 22, 2013 at 00:01

Just curious, Another Guest… why would you suggest RoK be extra cautious with a (totally hypothetical) Super Hornet-K option due to your concerns of a 'propensity for politically-motivated arms export bans', but not express such concerns with the F-15 option and F-35 option?

I'll tell you though, if anything so drastic ever errupted onto the world stage that forced a suspension of Boeing Super Hornet deliveries to RoK, I think the minor issue of suspending a fighter jet delivery would be the least of our worries.  There would likely be catastrophic geopolitical disruptions and chaos on the peninsula/region to ever conceive of such a major suspension or outright export 'ban'.

So I'm going to go with that 'concern' of yours as being a non-consequential factor.

That being said, I hear you and recognize the fact of an hypothetical 'Advanced Super Hornet-K' not being equal to F-15K/Typhoon in raw ACM kinematic performance and aerodynamics.  Yet, my main thrust as mentioned, was that other advantages/capabilities perhaps might have offset said performance disadvantages, as well as might have affordability.  For one, such advantages as 'Buddy-refuelling' capability could be tactically attractive to RoKAF e.g., as a more flexible/survivable means to extend endurance (when coupled with CFT) in potentially highly confined battle-space.  That and the potential tactical advantage of being more capable of operating from austere basing/short runway scenarios, than say, the F-15?

August 21, 2013 at 02:29

One big advantage the F-15SE has is that the stealth weapon bays (replacing what used to be knows as FaST Packs) are being designed by a Korean company.

To say that "the F-15K, a less advanced variant of the F-15E" is not really accurate; in many ways (fly-by-wire system, materials used, and at least in some cases the radar) it is more advanced. 

As to why the US has not pushed it to other allies, we want countries to absorb some of the costs of the F-35 project. I actually think the US should have bought some F-15SE or F-16E's a few years ago when it was more than clear that the F-35 was running into problems. It would have put presure on Lockehead (well, not the F-16E), kept Boing in the game, given the US some advance weapons (needed in case of Syria/Iran/unknown) that would (hopefully) been reliable, and could have been moved over to the National Gaurd/Reserves when the F-35 was ready. 

Politics (bad reason) and budgets (good reason) of course made sure that would never happen.

August 20, 2013 at 23:10

Isn't this a rather bizarre way of procuring airplanes for your future national defense? Why not go back to the three competitors, advise them of the budget restrictions, and ask them to propose something within the price range. Let the manufacturers determine the mix of aircraft.

Having said that, Boeing can call the F-15SE a stealth aircraft and I can say that I'm the sexiest man in the world. That doesn't make either true.

Another Guest (from Australia)
August 20, 2013 at 19:37

Hi Lamblasted,

"Whereas, RoKAF arguably would have been oddly the better fit for an 'Advanced Super Hornet' concept given capacity for more austere operating conditions, single-seat/twin-seat options, avionics growth path, ability for buddy-refueling and CFT for added endurance?  The buddy-refueling capability alone for the Super Hornet would seem to have been custom-made for a relatively small-sized country and operating requirements of RoK."

I'd be a little bit careful with the Super Hornet. In some ways the F/A-18E/F is not as bad as the F-35 in some respects, being ahead of schedule, on time and cheaper (at $65 million per plane) and proven aircraft.

There is weaknesses to this aircraft. It offers poorer aerodynamic performance than other competitors, falling behind in areas like high manoeuvrability, acceleration, sustained G loads, etc. Concerns about America’s propensity to use arms export bans as a political lever add a final complication to the Super Hornet’s odds, and take away some of the advantage created by its broad arsenal of American weapons and sensors.

Another Guest (from Australia)
August 20, 2013 at 19:35

YES that is so great to see the failed Joke Still Flying eliminated from the FX-III contest.

August 20, 2013 at 07:11

Interesting the nickle and diming over whether it was fifteen 2-seat Eurofighters, or six.  It would be a new ball game to see F-15SE come in a single-seater mod.

That said, the F-15SE is of course not the original design conceived and advertised.  Forget the canted wings and integrating the weapons bays will likely need to be part of a follow-on upgrade — at extra cost to RoKAF(?).

But the analysis by Howard Berry seems sound and persuasive being the more flexible, superior platform over the duration; at least compared to F-35.

I'm just surprised this F-15SE is/was not marketed in earnst to other allies, such as Australia too and Japan and maybe even Canada.  Whereas, RoKAF arguably would have been oddly the better fit for an 'Advanced Super Hornet' concept given capacity for more austere operating conditions, single-seat/twin-seat options, avionics growth path, ability for buddy-refueling and CFT for added endurance?  The buddy-refueling capability alone for the Super Hornet would seem to have been custom-made for a relatively small-sized country and operating requirements of RoK.  Anyway…I digress.

TV Monitor
August 20, 2013 at 05:01

I was already saying that the Silent Eagle was in the pole position based on the local press report everytime this subject came up, but the Diplomat never approved my comments because it contradicted their claims about the F-35's standing in the Korean contest.

The Korean F-X was always Boeing's to lose and the F-35 was merely a means to apply pressure to Boeing for a deep price discount.


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