South Korea’s F-X Fighter Buys: F-35As and F-15Ks
F-35 deal minimizes KF-X cooperation; KF-16 offer could help, but it still wouldn’t be the full amount of foreign assistance desired.
Oct 15/14: F-35 & KF-16. Korean media report that a proposed $753 million price hike for BAE’s KF-16 upgrade deal could result in cancellation. Lockheed Martin waits in the wings, and is reportedly extending an offer that would include more technical help with the multinational KF-X fighter program if the ROKAF switches.
The US government is reportedly demanding another WON 500 billion (about $471 million) for unspecified added “risk management,” while BAE is reportedly requesting another WON 300 million ($282 million) to cover a 1-year program delay. The Koreans are becoming visibly frustrated and distrustful, and have said openly that the deal may be canceled.
Lockheed Martin’s angle is a spinoff from their recent F-35A deal, which will supply 40 aircraft to the ROKAF. Part of their industrial offsets involved 300 man-years of help designing the proposed KF-X. They were cautious about providing too much help, but they reportedly see enough benefit in badly wounding an F-16 upgrade competitor to offer another 400 man-years of support for KF-X (total: 700) if the ROKAF switches. Sources: Chosun Ilbo, “U.S. in Massive Price Hike for Fighter Jet Upgrade” | Defense News, “F-16 Upgrade: Problems With S. Korea-BAE Deal Could Open Door to Lockheed” | Korea Times, “Korea may nix BAE’s KF-16 upgrade deal”.
Sept 24/14: F-35A. DAPA agrees on a WON 7.3 trillion deal for 40 F-35A fighters. including technology transfer in 17 sectors for use in KF-X. Transfers will include flight control and fire suppression technologies, and this appears to have been the final part of the KF-X puzzle. DAPA is said to have finalized their WON 8.5 trillion KF-X development plan, but it still has to be approved.
Subsequent reports indicate that Lockheed Martin has limited its proposed help with KF-X to just 300 man-years, rather than the 800 desired. In exchange, they offered a very unusual offset: they would buy a military communications satellite for South Korea, and launch it by 2017. Lockheed Martin isn’t saying anything, but Thales is favored as the source, as they provided the payload for South Korea’s Kopmsat-5 radar observation satellite, and have played a major role in KT Sat’s Koreasat commercial telecommunications satellites.
Why wouldn’t Lockheed Martin, which makes these satellites itself, just built one? Because this way, it doesn’t have to deal with any American weapon export approval processes and restrictions, which would have delayed overall negotiations and might have endangered them. That’s a lot of effort and money, in order to avoid ITAR laws. Or added help for KF-X. Sources: Yonhap, “Seoul to buy 40 F-35A fighters from Lockheed Martin in 7.3 tln won deal” | Defense News, “F-16 Upgrade: Problems With S. Korea-BAE Deal Could Open Door to Lockheed” | Reuters, “Exclusive: Lockheed to buy European satellite for South Korea in F-35 deal”.
The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) originally planned to buy 120 advanced, high-end fighters as its next-generation platform, in order to replace its existing fleet of F-4 Phantom IIs and other aircraft. So far, it has bought 60 fighters in 2 phases. Back in 2002, the South Koreans picked the advanced F-15K derivative of the F-15E Strike Eagle for its F-X Next Generation Fighter Program, and bought 40. In 2008, a 2nd F-X Phase II contract was signed for 20 more F-15ks, with slight modifications.
As the 3rd phase loomed, the question was whether it will be a variant of their existing fleet, or something new. While the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) dreamed of developing their own “5th generation” aircraft for Phase 3, reality eventually had its say. Now, foreign manufacturers are offering the ROKAF a number of off-the-shelf options. But throughout 2013 DAPA couldn’t seem to be able to reconcile the air force’s desire for advanced technology with its budget constraints. Boeing seemed on the edge of winning with its F15-SEs as the sole contender within budget, only to be rejected by the end of September 2013. This reopened the tender with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 as the likely favorite, a choice which was confirmed as 2014 unfolded.
F-X to KF-X: The Best-Laid Plans…
The ROKAF’s F-X-2
F-X-3 and KF-X
Stealth, and the F-X-3 competitors
Contracts & Key Events
2007 and Earlier
Appendix A: Original F-X-2 Candidates
Appendix B: Which SU-35?
Background: F-X-3 Contenders
News & Views
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