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.