Foreign defense companies competing for South Korea's a multi-billion dollar project for combat jet acquisition handed in their renewed bids Thursday, officials here said, as the evaluation process is poised to get underway.
The F-15 Silent Eagle (SE) by U.S. firm Boeing, the F-35A by another American company Lockheed Martin, and the Eurofighter by Europe-based multinational defense group EADS are in the contest to win the mega deal worth upward of 8.3 trillion won ($7.3 billion), code-named F-X. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the state procurement agency, had set an initial deadline for bids of June 18. The three firms tendered their offers, but the DAPA cited errors in relevant documents by Lockheed Martin and EADS before reopening the bidding.
"We will evaluate each bid in accordance with due process," the DAPA said in a statement. "We will ensure fair competition and, with thorough evaluation and proper negotiations, we will select the aircraft that we believe most benefits our national interest."
The DAPA said a team of 15 expert evaluators will review the bids in nearly 300 categories, covering such areas as each fighter jet's operational capabilities, from July 9 to 14. Then, starting in late July, a team of 45 Air Force evaluators will conduct flight tests on more than 500 categories, including the fighters' interoperability and their compatibility with South Korean armed forces.
The DAPA said last month some technical requirements will be tested on simulators because core parts of all three jets are still under development.
South Korea plans to purchase 60 fighter jets by 2021 to replace the Air Force's aging fleet. The winner of the bid is expected to be announced later this year.
The DAPA had earlier said the winner would be chosen sometime in October but with the administrative hiccup last month, officials have since backtracked, saying the October date is merely a target, not a deadline.
"With the bids having been submitted, we now have to go through testing and negotiations," Oh Tae-sik, head of program management agency within the DAPA, told reporters Thursday. "These won't be easy steps. Depending on how long they take, the final decision (on the fighter jet) may be put off until into the next administration (in early 2013)."
South Korea has earlier purchased 60 of Boeing's F-15 fighter jets since 2002 in the first two stages of its fighter modernization program. (Yonhap)