F-15K jets fly blind to enemy attacks
At least 7 percent of F-15Ks, the most advanced fighter jets that Korea has ever purchased, have been flying with a malfunctioning electronic countermeasures (ECM) system over the past few years, according to multiple sources Thursday.
No less than four of the country’s 52 F-15Ks in service are operating with a defective ALQ-135M, an internal ECM system manufactured and supplied only to Korea by Northrop Grumman, they said.
“Korea has set aside $56 million to procure six ALQ-135Ms to use them as spare parts as the critical electronic warfare suite of the F-15Ks frequently breaks down,” a senior government official said.
“Nevertheless, we have been facing great difficulties in procuring them mainly because the customized advanced ECM system is used only in Korea and is no longer manufactured.”
A senior Air Force official noted that the operational rate of F-15Ks, the mainstay of the country’s Air Force fighter fleet, is estimated to be about 84 percent, and that about 7 percent of them fly with defective self-protection measures.
“The rate of fully operational F-15Ks is estimated to be at 77 percent or lower,” he said asking for anonymity. “If an enemy fires a missile toward an F-15K with a faulty ALQ-135M, the pilot will most likely fail to notice the imminent threat and lose the chance to avoid it.”
The ALQ-135M is capable of helping a fighter jet manage and defeat multiple threats simultaneously, prioritizing and neutralizing the most imminent dangers. It significantly increases the chance of dodging incoming missiles and provides optimal countermeasures based upon the mission environment, threat lethality and mission priority.
“Pilots flying an F-15K with a malfunctioning ALQ-135M will be unaware of the danger when an enemy fighter locks onto their aircraft and fires a missile,” the Air Force official said.
Military insiders said that Korea must address the defective ALQ-135Ms as soon as possible because the survival rate of an $80-million F-15K is seriously undermined without the countermeasure in combat.
They stressed the country has been having difficulty securing parts for F-15Ks largely because 73 percent, or 159 of the 219 electronic warfare system parts, are uniquely designed to meet the needs of the Korean Air Force.
“I assure that Korea will not make a mistake again and buy a fighter jet with unique components,” a senior government source said.
The official noted the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is negotiating with the U.S. government for possible sales of ALQ-135s through Foreign Military Sales.
Defense insiders say that the U.S. government informed Korea that it will take about 26 to 32 months to deliver new ALQ-135s upon signing a contract, which will be only possible after June 15.
They argued that Korea should purchase them through commercial sales as the delivery time for the ECM systems can be significantly shortened.
The unit cost for the first lot of 40 F-15K airframes and engines (fly away cost) was 75.3 billion won ($84.4 million), but rose to 87.66 billion won for the second lot of 20.
The maintenance cost for Korea’s F-15Ks has jumped nearly 10-fold over the past four years, from 9.7 billion won in 2008 to 95.82 billion won in 2011, according to a National Assembly document.