* Boeing's F-15SE only bid under budget
* Strong support for Lockheed Martin's F-35A stealth jet
* New jets needed to replace ageing fleet
By Joyce Lee and Ju-min Park
SEOUL, Sept 24 Boeing Co is favourite to
win one of the world's biggest defence deals of the year on
Tuesday when South Korea names the winner of an 8.3 trillion won
($7.7 billion) fighter jet tender, with its F-15 Silent Eagle
the only candidate within budget.
Only under-budget bids can be selected, according to South
Korean law, leaving Boeing in the box seat unless a new tender
is called. There is still a possibility top decision makers
including the president can scrap the current auction, but
experts say that is a long shot.
Bids by rival Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35A and
Eurofighter consortium's Typhoon were both over budget.
Debate has intensified as the tender decision has drawn
closer and 15 South Korean former air force chiefs signed a
petition in late August opposing the selection of Boeing's
F-15SE, saying it lacked the stealth capabilities of more modern
Plagued by multiple delays that pushed back first delivery
by three years to 2017, and a total budget fixed without wriggle
room, top decision-makers are now keen to buy jets as soon as
possible to partially replace ageing F-4 and F-5 fighters and
maintain combat capabilities.
"Timing of the deployment is the most important factor... If
(first delivery of) this project is delayed to 2019, I believe
it could even be a serious matter in relation to North Korea,"
Air Force Chief of Staff Sung Il-hwan told a parliamentary
hearing earlier this month.
If South Korea delays the decision, the Defense Acquisition
Program Administration (DAPA) estimates that by 2019 the South
Korean air force could be 100 fighters short of the 430 jets
And with South Korea facing a 2013 revenue shortfall of up
to 8 trillion won ($7.37 billon), experts say there is little
chance the finance ministry will change rules to increase the
The F-35A had once been the favourite as it was the only
model that met the initial stealth requirements the South Korean
air force submitted. But that requirement was relaxed in 2011 to
allow for more competitors and bring the bid prices down.
"High-level fighters are needed to not only check North
Korea but nearby countries" as Japan acquires F-35s and China
develops J-20 stealth fighters, said Shin In-kyun, president of
the Korea Defence Network, an alliance of defence experts based
A committee chaired by the defence minister will meet on
Tuesday to make a final decision on the tender.