Friday, September 27, 2013

F-15 SE's weak stealth function serves biggest hurdle in S. Korean deal

U.S. aerospace giant Boeing came close to grabbing South Korea's next generation fighter plane contract with the cheapest offer, but the F-15 Silent Eagle failed to overcome its inadequate stealth capabilities to win the 8.3 trillion won (US$7.2 billion) deal amid growing security concerns.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) on Tuesday decided not to select Boeing's F-15 SE as the country's next fighter jet, as combat capabilities of the sole-remaining candidate within the budget were surpassed by its rival--Lockheed Martin's F-35.
The need to acquire the most advanced jet took on new urgency as North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February and continues to develop its missile program, military officials said.
"Considering the changing security situation on the Korean Peninsula and the development of the latest aerospace technology, committee members decided to reject the (F-15 SE) and restart the project," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. "There is a consensus that South Korea needs the fifth-generation fighter jet to deter the growing threat posed by North Korea."

   Boeing claimed survivability, not stealth, is the war fighter's objective to highlighting the dual-engine fighter's weapons carriage capacity and electronic warfare capability, but it failed to defeat its image as an "older generation jet."

   The decision prompted the government to restart the procurement program from the beginning, further delaying the replacement of the aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s by over a year.
Experts say the decision is expected to favor the F-35s chances, as there are growing calls to acquire stealth jets in response to rising threats by North Korea, and Asian neighbors flexing their military muscle.
The rejection on the verge of the final selection illustrates pressure felt by the military and the government to buy 60 jets from the F-15 family with improved features as some experts and former Air Force chiefs have expressed concern over the plane's stealth capabilities.
In late August, a group of retired Air Force chiefs sent letters to the National Assembly, presidential office and defense ministry to suggest a reconsideration of the current evaluation process that effectively weeded out the other two bidders with higher price tags.
The four-star generals claimed that South Korea needs "asymmetric combat capability" in the near future to counter Asian neighbors armed with the most advanced fighter jets.
In terms of deterring provocations, experts say operating radar-evading jets can deliver a message to Pyongyang, which threatened nuclear war against Seoul and Washington in response to their annual military drills earlier this year.
The U.S. Air Force sent B-2 stealth bombers and F-22 stealth jets to the Korean Peninsula as part of the joint exercise in a show of force after the North threatened to strike South Korea and the U.S. military bases in Hawaii and Guam.
Military analysts have stressed the need to acquire strategic weapons as the Korean Peninsula is encircled by China and Japan, which are at odds with each other over territorial disputes and seek to expand military power.
The hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December for a rare second term, pledging to bolster the military to cope with what Japan sees as an increasingly threatening security environment including an assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea.
Last year, Tokyo signed a deal to buy 42 F-35s by Lockheed Martin, with the first four planes scheduled for delivery in 2017.
China's military capabilities lag far behind those of the U.S., but China is aggressively seeking to boost its strength by developing its own stealth jets and by the launch of its first aircraft carrier last year.
When China flew its first stealth aircraft, the J-20, in 2011, it sounded alarm bells across the region as the well-funded efforts by Beijing to acquire cutting-edge weapons seemed to be bearing fruit. The J-20 is still in the development phase, and its developers have claimed it can be operational around 2017-2019.
Russia is also preparing to equip its Air Force with fifth-generation fighter jets to counter the U.S.'s F-35s and F-22s. They will get their first T-50 fighter jet built by Russia's biggest defense contractor Sukhoi this year, and plan to have a fleet of them by 2016, according to the latest media reports.

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