South Korea Rejects Bid by Boeing for Fighters, F-35 Moves up in Line
South Korea's government bowed to public pressure on Tuesday and voted down a bid by Boeing to supply 60 warplanes, saying it would restart the multi-billion tender process to get a more advanced, radar-evading fighter.
Lockheed Martin's F-35A, previously considered too expensive, has shot to the front of the line in the race for the contract after the defense ministry singled out a fifth-generation fighter as the preferred option.
The fifth generation F-35A, complete with its hi-tech stealth capability, has already been ordered by the United States and seven other countries, including Japan and Israel.
Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle, the only bid within budget, had been poised to win the 8.3 trillion won ($7.7 billion) tender. But former military top brass and ruling party lawmakers had criticized the plane for lacking stealth capabilities.
"Our air force thinks that we need combat capabilities in response to the latest trend of aerospace technology development centered around the fifth generation fighter jets and to provocations from North Korea," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters.
Experts said the phrasing of that statement meant Boeing had a slim chance in the next round. While the F-15 Silent Eagle offered passive stealth, its electronic warfare equipment left it visible to adversaries.
A third bid by the Eurofighter consortium's Typhoon was also ruled out for going over the finance ministry's budget. Under South Korean law, only bids under budget are eligible to win defense contracts.
Experts said a deal with Boeing or Lockheed Martin was most likely because of South Korea's close military alliance with the United States against the belligerent North.
The South Korean government and air force will map out a fresh tender process and consider a new budget, possibly reducing the number of planes sought to 40 or 50.
The defense ministry said it could take around one year to complete the new tender round.
"DAPA...will swiftly pursue the program again in order to minimize the vacuum in combat capabilities," South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), which led the assessment of the fighters, said in a statement.
Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.