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F-35 GETTING CLOSER FOR SOUTH KOREA
e situation regarding the possibility of South Korea purchasing Lockheed Martin's F-35 for its KFX-3 program
is becoming clearer -- but only slightly. e latest noises coming from Seoul is that the Republic of Korea Air Force
(RoKAF) is making progress realigning its budget with its requirements but that a formal announcement is still
months away. e other bidders in the original competition -- Boeing with an F-15 variant and EADS with the
Euro ghter -- seem to have reconciled themselves to the likelihood that their chances now depend on a split buy:
that is, the F-35 combined with a 4th generation combat aircraft.
Few statements have been made by
either the Ministry of National Defence,
or the Defence Acquisition Program
Administration (DAPA), so it is worth
looking at the transcript of Baek Yoon-hyung
remarks in November explaining the decision of the
Defence Acquisiton Progam's Executive Committee
(DAPEC). The DAPEC is the most senior defence
procurement committee, chaired by the Minister,
"The F-X program is a national weapon acquisition
program to introduce fighters with high quality
capabilities from overseas to prepare North Korean
asymmetric combat power and seize the war
"Amongst three fighters including the F-15SE,
F-35A, and Eurofighter, Boeing's F-15SE was
reported as the F-X project fighter candidate on the
final selection candidate. However, the proposal
was rejected after thorough discussion by DAPEC.
DAPEC decided to reject the final project
proposal after profound discussion about security
operation condition of
Korea, based on the
evaluation results on
various categories such
as mission execution
capability and cost.
MND and DAPA will
collaborate with related
agencies to re-execute
the project as fast as
possible to minimize the
force vacuum. Suggested
methods include quantity
adjustment or total project
And from the Ministry of
for such a decision is because the majority
of the DAPEC members agreed to reject it.
Comprehensive evaluation results showed that,
we need to consider North Korea's asymmetric
combat power like the nuclear weapons, recent
security circumstances and global aerospace
technology development trends and have decided
to recommence the program.
"Especially we need to build a kill chain as a key
strategic power as a retaliation measure against
ground provocation. Also we assessed that our Air
Force should rise along with the global aerospace
technology transition to the 5th generation."
The briefing made it clear that the way forward
might involve a split by -- but gave no guarantee that
this would in fact be the case. Nevertheless, both
Boeing and Eurofighter believe the case for such a
strategy is compelling, based mainly on timeframes.
The RoKAF has an ageing fleet of combat aircraft
and F-35s would not be available until 2018,
whereas both F-15s and Eurofighters can be
supplied well in advance of this date.
Asked for his assessment of the situation,
respected journalist Jo Mongoon with the Korean
magazine Defence & Aerospace explained:
"The statement referred to proves that Ministry
of Defense can't afford to buy originally planned 60
F-35s because of its hefty price tag. The committee
came up with the number 40 but according to a
reliable source, they can just afford 30~32 F-35s
with the current budget.
"Making matter worse, the announcement
makes future negotiations very difficult. In fact,
all competitors had a suspicion that the ROKAF
wanted the F-35 at the outset - but that has never
been officially revealed. However, through the
announcement, this suspicion has became fact. The
Korean government cannot make the F-35's price
lower -- rather the U.S. government is highly likely to
stick to the F-35's extravagant price.
"The number of 30~32 F-35s is seriously
insufficient considering the number of F-4E/F-5
aircraft which should be retired at least from 2017.
The F-5 fleet's obsolescence is a huge problem. As
many as 11 F-5s have crashed during the past 10
years -- and the RoKAF has 180 of them in service.
Clearly, the ROKAF cannot replace all F-5 fleets
So there would seem to be glimmer of hope that
the F-35 will not be the only aircraft selected for the
KFX-3, but no one is betting on that -- especially
as the RoKAF has just cleared the way to spend
almost US $2.4 billion upgrading the existing F-16
fleet (see article on page 26). It is not clear just how
many 4th generation aircraft will be needed, given
the asymmetric nature of the North Korean threat.
Credit: USAF / Alex R Lloyd
Kym Bergmann / SINGAPORE
The briefing made it clear that the may forward might involve a split by --
but gave no guarantee that this would in fact be the case.
32 DefenceReviewAsia | FEB 2014
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