3 bid for $7.2 bil. fighter program
By Lee Tae-hoon
Two U.S. aerospace giants and a leading European aircraft maker have completed the submission of their proposals to bid in Korea’s advanced fighter jet acquisition program, an official of the state-run arms procurement agency said Monday.
He noted that Boeing was the first one to submit its detailed offer last Thursday with its F-15SE, and Lockheed Martin and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) followed suit Monday with their F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) plans to open the many boxes of documents the three competitors submitted this Thursday for review and evaluation, which will continue through September.
Until recently, Noh Dae-lae, the commissioner of DAPA, maintained that he would announce the winner of the FX-III race, for which 8.29 trillion won ($7.16 billion) is at stake, in October and sign a contract by the end of the year.
However, he recently took a step back from his earlier position amid mounting criticism over his erroneous remarks about the application of simulation tests for the F-35.
He mistakenly said Japan and Israel assessed the F-35, which is still being developed and tested, with a flight simulator and that it will not be an issue for Korea to do so as well. It was later found that the two U.S. allies purchased the F-35 based on a document review without simulator tests or actual test flights.
“DAPA will conduct negotiations in accordance with the current schedule,” Baek Youn-hyeong, spokesman of DAPA said. “If there is a need to extend the negotiation period to protect the national interest, we will discuss the matter through the decision-making process.”
Politicians from both ruling and opposition parties have raised concerns about the “hasty testing and purchasing” of new fighter jets, saying the nation’s largest ever arms purchase plan should be handled by the next administration, which will take office early next year.
“Competing fighter jets should be properly assessed with ample time,” Rep. Shim Jae-chul of the ruling Saenuri Party said in a meeting of the party’s decision-making Supreme Council.
He noted that DAPA will only spend a month for the testing and evaluation of the three multirole fighters and it will not be possible for evaluators to fly the F-35 for testing, nor the F-15SE.
Park Yong-jin, a spokesman of the main opposition Democratic United Party, called for an immediate suspension of the FX-III project, through which Seoul plans to deploy 60 cutting-edge jets from 2016 through 2020.
“The incumbent government must immediately stop the next-generation fighter program, which has been mishandled due to incompetence and stubbornness, and let the next administration deal with it,” he said.
Air Force officials say that it is urgent for the country to introduce new jets without further delays as a large number of the country’s aging F-4s and F-5s are set to retire in several years.
Seoul purchased 60 of the earlier F-15 variant from Boeing, which won both of the FX-I and II projects in 2002 and 2008.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is the only one that met the Air Force’s earlier requirements due largely to the fifth-generation fighter’s stealth features and internal weapons bay.
However, the F-35 has been losing its competitive edge in the FX-III race, for which DAPA eased the requirements to allow Boeing and EADs to enter, due to cost overruns and delays in development.
EADS has announced that it would offer a manufacturing facility for its Eurofighter Typhoon — which lacks stealth features — and provide the most extensive amount of technological transfer to Korea.
Boeing has yet to publicly make any enticing offer, but has a strong competitive edge here as it provided 60 the F-15Ks, which will be at least 80 percent comparable with the latest F-15 variant it wants to sell to Seoul.