By Lee Tae-hoon
Seoul has decided to remove two key compulsory requirements initially set for 60 advanced fighter jets that it plans to purchase in an attempt to allow more companies to enter the competition for the nation’s largest-ever arms deal.
“Korea cannot defend the national interest without competition,” said Noh Dae-lae, the commissioner of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in a meeting with defense reporters Thursday.
He stressed that the military will ease the required operational capabilities (ROC) of the FX-III project to secure a bigger “buying power” and a greater leverage in negotiations by promoting competition.
Kim Dae-sik, the head of DAPA’s contract management agency, confirmed that Seoul will release a request for proposal (RFP) for the purchase of 60 high-end foreign jets without the early prerequisite of a conformal weapons bay.
The conformal weapons bay, which allows aircraft to carry weapons internally, is a common characteristic of the fifth generation stealth aircraft. It greatly reduces the radar cross section (RCS) of the plane, making it appear much smaller than it is on enemy radar, often to a size of a bird.
“DAPA plans to issue the RFP by the end of the month without the requirement of the conformal weapons bay,” Kim said.
Of three aircraft manufacturers that publicly expressed intent to enter the FX-III bid, only the Eurofighter Typhoon built by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) lacks the internal weapons bay.
Lockheed Martin has successfully completed the development of a conformal bay for the F-35 Lightning II that it wants to sell to Korea, whereas Boeing is developing one for its F-15 Silent Eagle, a proposed upgrade of the F-15.
Oh Tae-shik, head of DAPA’s program management agency, confirmed that any major players in the market will be able to enter the FX-race without having to fulfill a specific RCS value previously set by the Air Force.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is the only aircraft that met the military’s RCS requirement.
“Non-stealth fighters will be able to enter the bid as we will lift the two early requirements,” he said. “However, DAPA will evaluate stealth capability as one of the key aspects, giving an advantage to an aircraft with a lower observability.”
Korea has set aside 8.3 trillion won ($7.3 billion) for the acquisition of 60 fighters to replace the Air Force’s F-4 and F-5 aircraft, 1.9 trillion won for 36 attack helicopters and 485 billion won for four high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles.
A source said the Air Force has launched a 50-member task force to help guarantee thorough testing, evaluation and negotiations for the three major foreign acquisition projects.
Seoul plans to receive proposals from possible bidders for the FX-III project and the helicopter project until June next year and announce the winners in September or October this year.
방사청 관계자는 12일 경쟁유도를 통한 Buying Power 및 협상력 제고를 위해 공군 차기전투기(F-X) 3차 사업의 공군의 작전요구성능(ROC)이었던 ‘내부무장’ 항목을 없애고 스텔스 성능을 수치화했던 것을 스텔스 성능의 보유개념으로 완화했다고 밝혔다.
내부무장은 적 레이더에 잡히지 않는 5세대 스텔스 전투기 성능의 핵심 기술이다. FX사업에 참여의사를 밝힌 EADS의 타이푼은 내부무장이 안되어 있는 상태이고 보잉은 F-15를 업그레이드해 F-15 사일런트 이글을 만들 예정이다.
이로써, 8.3조원 들여 2016년부터 60대 차세대 전투기를 도입하는 FX사업은 스텔스기인 록히드 마틴의 F-35와 세미 스텔스기 F-15 사일런 이글 그리고 스텔스 기능이 가장 취약한 EADS의 타이푼의 치열한 각축전이 될 전망이다.
노대래 방사청장은 이에 대해 “경쟁이 아니면 국익을 수호 할 수 없다고”강조하며 사업을 차질 없이 예정대로 진행해 입찰공고를 이달 내고 기종선정을 올해 9월 또는 10월 하겠다고 밝혔다.