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Foreign aircraft builders vie for lucrative Korean project

Foreign aircraft builders vie for lucrative Korean project

Posted September. 28, 2011 03:28,   


“The Rafale took the lead (built by French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation) by a narrow margin in the first stage of the assessment, but considering interoperability and the alliance between Korea and the U.S., we have finally chosen the F-15K (built by the American company Boeing).”

When the Korean Defense Ministry announced in 2002 the selection of the F-15K for the first stage of its fighter jet development project called Fighter eXperimental, or FX, opinions were mixed. Some said it was a fully expected result under the Korea-U.S. alliance while others blasted preferential treatment for U.S. fighters.

At the time, Dassault applied for an injunction with a Korean court to nullify Boeing`s selection, citing the unfairness of the project.

Nonetheless, the American aerospace giant beat its French rival on the back of the Korea-U.S. alliance. Following its success in the first FX project, Boeing won the bid to sell 20 fighters to Korea in the second project.

In the first and second FX projects, which cost a combined 7.7 trillion won (6.7 billion U.S. dollars), Boeing sold a combined 60 fighters to Korea.

With a host of aircraft manufacturers joining the bid to provide fighter jets for Korea`s third project, however, predicting a winner in the bidding slated for next month is difficult.

Foreign aircraft manufacturers, which are suffering from the global economic downturn, cannot afford to miss out on the third FX project that the Korean government will buy 60 fighters for about 8 trillion won (6.8 billion dollars).

Excluding a Russian aircraft builder who has a slim chance to be selected, other companies are engaging in a war of nerves under the judgment that they have a fair chance to win the bid.

Unlike the two-way competition between the U.S. and Europe for fourth-generation fighters in the first project, the third will attract a diversity of competitors.

First, a rivalry between the fifth and 4.5-generation fighter will unfold. U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin says its F-35 is the lone stealth fighter aircraft that cannot be detected by radar. If the F-35 is selected in Japan late this year, the company will gain the upper hand in the Korean market.

The builders of 4.5-generation fighters such as the F-15SE and the Eurofighter Typhoon have joined hands with each other to take on the F-35, saying the stealth fighter is not a magic bullet. They said the F-35`s capability has yet to be verified in real-life combat and the fighter will not be delivered on time due to delays in mass production.

Another rivalry is between U.S.-built fighters and those designed in Europe. Unlike the first project, the U.S. cannot take advantage of its alliance with Korea in the third project.

A high-ranking Korean military official said, “Korean policy can no longer provide the same preferential treatment to U.S. weaponry like the past. Since top priority is being placed on performance and cost effectiveness, we cannot say U.S. fighters are in a better position.”

Competition between U.S. fighters (the F-35 vs. F-15SE) also exists. American fighter makers are pitted against each other for the first time since 1990, when the F-16 beat the F-18 in an FX project.

To beat Boeing, which has sold 60 units of the F-15k and the airborne early warning and control aircraft E-737, Lockheed Martin said it will transfer technology for stealth fighters should its fighter be chosen.