South Korea Rejects Boeing’s F-15SE Fighter, Will Restart FX-III
Image Credit: Boeing

South Korea Rejects Boeing’s F-15SE Fighter, Will Restart FX-III


South Korea has decided against selecting Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle Fighter Jet as the winner of its FX-III competition, according to local media reports.

On Tuesday Yonhap News Agency reported that South Korean defense officials decided against awarding the 8.3 trillion won (US$7.2 billion) contract to Boeing over concerns about the F-15SE Fighter’s lack of stealth and suitability in future conflicts. Instead, during a meeting of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), South Korea’s streamlined military defense procurement board, officials decided to restart the procurement process to replace the ROK’s aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s.

“The committee made the decision through in-depth discussions on the security situation and the combat environment based on assessments of the jets' mission capabilities and prices,” the DAPA said in a press release, according to Yonhap. The DAPA went on to pledge that it “will promptly restart the project to minimize the security vacuum by consulting related organizations to revise the total budget and requirements.”

The FX-III competition to sell South Korea 60 new fighter aircraft had been a three way race between the F-15SE, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and EADS' Eurofighter Typhoon. All three companies’ initial bids failed to meet the cost requirements set by the South Korean government. As a result, Seoul launched a final bidding phase, which took place last month.

As The Diplomat reported at the time, nearly immediately after the second bidding phase ended, reports emerged that the F-35 and Eurofighter had been eliminated from the competition. According to the reports, Lockheed’s bid for the F-35 again failed to meet South Korea’s price requirements, while EADS’ offer only included  two-seater aircraft instead of the 15 twin-seaters South Korea had sought. As a result, the F-15SE was presumed to be the winner of the competition, with the official announcement this month expected to be little more than a formality.

Earlier this year, The Diplomat interviewed Boeing and Lockheed’s campaign directors for the FX-III project. In the interview with Howard Berry, Boeing's F-X Campaign Director, Harry Kazianis noted that some observers consider the F-15SE to be a 4.5 generation fighter in recognition of its lack of complete stealth capabilities, and asked Berry how it might be expected to compete against fifth-generation fighters from countries like Russia and China.

Berry responded in part by saying:

“I challenge you to define fifth generation. The definition seems to change on a daily basis, depending on who you’re talking to. We prefer not to use the generational distinction. Silent Eagle is designed to meet current and emerging customer requirements for improved survivability through enhanced situational awareness, stand-off weapons and reduced Radar Cross Section.”

The DAPA’s decision to restart the project is almost certain to spark concern about whether the ROK will have F-4 and F-5 replacements in time to retire those aircraft. Seoul had originally required the bidders to promise the delivery of the aircraft during a five year period starting in 2017.

The decision to forgo the F-15SE over capabilities concerns will also likely spark debate about how the ROK should go about refashioning the program to meet its needs defense within its budgetary requirements. South Korea will likely have to reduce the quantity of planes it plans to procure, or else secure a bigger budget for the FX-III project.  

September 25, 2013 at 18:38

The thing about South Korea's motives are that they are not just looking for an effective fighter jet. They are looking for an active deterrance against North Korea.

They can already overwhelm North Korea with their existing F-15s and F-16s.

What the Korean generals loved is how Kim Jong Il hid in his bunker when US F-22s and B-2s visited the peninsula.

The Boeing F15SE would have been a fine choice as a war fighter. But they are not looking to fight a war. They  are looking for a big stick to wave around that keeps the North from barking.

There is also talk of preparing against Chinese and Japanese purchases and development of stealth fighters.

This round of purchases is to prepare for the next 40 years not just 10. So in that regard, competing with Chinese J-20s and Japanese F-35s and possible indigenous stealth fighter is also a factor.

But most importantly is they want to deter North Korea from acting out, with the threat of stealth bombers able to bomb anywhere in the North virtually invisible.

Like I said the idea of Kim Jong Un hiding in his bunkers is worth the cost of a stealth fighter, unproven and overbudget it may be.

September 25, 2013 at 16:33

Buy Drones…. 

September 25, 2013 at 16:01

The Korean Air Force already operates F15Ks from the last competition in 2002 and allegedly picked it despite the Rafale performing better in testing due to integration with existing US systems and stockpiles.  The fact that the recent programme was collapsed rather than accept the F15 Silent Eagle implies that the Silent Eagle was rejected.  If we apply the lessons of F-X 1 the Typhoon is inappropriate due to incompatibility and perhaps political links, which leaves the Koreans faffing around to get a better deal on the F35.

September 25, 2013 at 15:43

The primary reason that the UK is getting the F35(B) is that it will fly off the STOVL carriers.  It is more a Harrier replacement than a Tornado one.  At the same time Typhoon is being upgraded for ground attack and the next generation Frigates will likely have strike cells for deep strike.  There is no pressing need for a Tornado replacement, especially with the F15SE who's airframe is three years older than the Tornado that you want it to replace. 

To my knowledge the scheduled like for like replacement for the Tornado fleet will be based on the Taranis/Neuron drones who's development is crucial for the maintenance of the British and European military jet industry.  If the UK buys F15SE there will be no budgetary justification and you can kiss Britain as a military jet manufacturer goodbye.

September 25, 2013 at 14:51

After reading about the 15 former South Korean Air Force chiefs of staff that publicly argued for the F-35 instead of the F-15SE, it's clear that they believed that DAPA was only interested in price rather than focusing on performance.

General Lee Han-ho was interviewed on South Korean TV stating there were several reasons why the F-35 will be looked at again as the possible choice for the South Korean air force. The first was stealth & performance of the F-35, the second was that the price of the F-35s were dropping in cost since the 2009-10 procurement estimates, the third was that the US air force will be basing their own F-22s and F-35s at Osan Air Base and Kunsan Air Base in South Korea reducing the number of orders needed to around 40 F-35s for South Korean Air Force instead of 60 F-15SE fighters, and lastly, that orders of the F-35 from Japan, Singapore, Australia, Britain, Italy, Norway, Israel, and now the Netherlands will further reduce the overall tender bid.

With the overall costs dropping on the F-35; especially, on the engine for the F-35B varient, Lockhead-Martin now may receive additional orders from Norway, Britain, and possibly Turkey before the year's out.

As the article in Reuter's stated, increased production of F-35 aircraft equals lowered costs to build these stealth fighters. Unfortunately, we will have to wait another year for South Korea to decide on their new FX competition.

TV Monitor
September 25, 2013 at 07:45

This article is incorrect. The F-X III contest is officially dead, the new one to take its place will be called F-X IV with a new budget and a new set of requirements.

Oh, and it wasn't the ROKAF and DAPA officials who rejected the Silent Eagle; a group of civilian "advisers" in the selection committee did against the ROKAF and DAPA officials championing the Silent Eagle and this is why Boeing is not holding the DAPA legally accountable.

September 25, 2013 at 03:00

This could be taken by some as an unanounced effort to further haggle with Lockheed over the price of the F-35. The F-35 seems to be the fighter jet that everyone wants but is struggling to afford the price tag per plane in a significant buy. 

September 25, 2013 at 01:10

The Boeing F15SE, would surely tick all the requisite boxes for the UK MoD, in procuring a relevant replacement for the RAF's ageing GR4 Tornado fleet, (strike/attack and recon aircrafts) whilst adding some  increased mission flexibility, in a proven aircraft that could easily handle air-air, as well as air-ground mission profiles.

Achieved (likely) at a far more reasonable price than the procurement of the smaller, single engined LM F35A/B platform option, for replacing the RAF's primary strike aircraft.

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