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

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

In a surprise move, ROK defense officials have decided against procuring 60 F-15 Silent Eagle jets for its FX-III competition.

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.