Next-generation fighter

Next-generation fighter
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin.

The winner of South Korea's next-generation fighter jet project is to be selected in a meeting to be presided over by Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Tuesday.

The selection comes amid lingering controversy over the stealth capability of Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle, which is deemed a favourite as it is the only candidate within the 8.3 trillion won (S$9 billion) budget set aside by Seoul for the project.

Late last month, 15 former Air Force chiefs of staff sent a letter to President Park Geun-hye to raise their objection to adopting F-15 SEs.

They suggested reconsidering the assessment criteria that prioritize price over capabilities, effectively excluding the other two bidders with higher price tags: Lockheed Martin's F-35 and the EADS' Eurofighter Typhoon.

It is not yet known which aircraft scored highest, but the state military procurement agency is expected to recommend the F-15 SE at the meeting of the 24-member commission to screen defence contracts. The commission is only authorised to approve or reject a recommendation from the Defence Acquisition Procurement Administration, with no say over choosing other bidders or increasing the budget for a programme.

If selected as the final contractor, Boeing will provide 60 F-15 SEs between 2017 and 2021 to operate alongside 60 F-15Ks, which have been used since 2002.

The letter signed by retired Air Force generals expressed concerns that the F-15 SE, based on a model originally developed in the 1970s, would not be equipped with sufficient stealth capability required of the next-generation fighter. Many Air Force pilots also seem to have a preference for the F-35, which has been developed as a stealth jet.

As noted by critics, the selection rule, under which the DAPA excluded the bids that exceeded its budget ceiling, may be nonsensical from a military viewpoint. DAPA officials were apparently perplexed when the Lockheed Martin and the EADS tendered bids surpassing its funding limit.

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