By Lee Tae-hoon
Russia has decided to enter Korea’s advanced jet acquisition project, which would be the biggest arms-procurement deal ever in the country, a defense official said Wednesday.
“Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi expressed its intent to compete in the fighter jet procurement project early this year,” Col. Wi Jong-seong of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said.
He said Sukhoi’s T-50 PAK-FA will vie with the F-15SE Silent Eagle from Boeing, the F-35 Lightning II from Lockheed Martin and the Eurofighter Typhoon from the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS).
The T-50 PAK-FA and the F-35 Lightning II are fifth generation stealth fighters, while the remaining two are fourth generation jets with limited stealth capabilities.
Earlier in the day, DAPA spokesman Son Hyeong-yeong announced that his agency has eased the criteria to allow more companies to bid for the FX-III project, under which Korea will purchase 60 high-end fighters with a budget of 8.29 trillion won ($7.86 billion).
“We will set up strategies that will allow for the transfer of core technology and that will encourage competition,” he said.
Insiders, however, say both the T-50 PAK-FA and Eurofighter Typhoon have a little chance in winning the bid as Korea’s alliance with the United States will be a decisive factor in the race.
They say EADS offered a better deal in Korea’s last jet acquisition project in 2008 than its American competitor Boeing, but lost the bid due largely to political decisions.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two of the largest defense contractors in the United States, say they have had a long industrial partnership with Korea and their fighters offer high compatibility with its existing weapons systems.
EADS recently announced that it will offer Korea the chance to assemble and partly manufacture Eurofighter Typhoons in Korea in an apparent bid not to lose the FX-race again.
“The first 10 deliveries will be assembled in Europe, while the next 24 will be built with components manufactured in Korea,” Erwin Obermeier, a senior advisor of export projects at EADS said, adding that the remainder will be assembled here.
He also downplayed concerns over compatibility, saying all Korean fighters and Eurofighters are built to be inter-operable in the NATO environment.
Korea has purchased 60 F-15s from Boeing, which won both the FX-I and II projects in 2002 and 2008
Meanwhile, DAPA announced that Korea will spend 1.84 trillion won to acquire 36 attack helicopters from overseas. Col. Tan Myeong-hoon of DAPA said the AH-1W SuperCobra by Bell and AH-64D Block III from Boeing, will compete with the EC-665 Tiger from Eurocopter of France and the T-129 from Turkey.
The winners of the FX-III and the attack helicopter bids will be announced in October next year.