With the UK dropping any plans for a mixed Lightning fleet, the US so far will be the sole country with more than one version in service. Here the first F-35C (CF-6) reporting to the US Navy, here at Eglin AFB. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

South Korea re-opens fighter selection, aims for F-35

A Lockheed Martin F-35 at Eglin AFB. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
A Lockheed Martin F-35 at Eglin AFB. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

The South Korean Ministry of Defence has re-opened the selection process of a new fighter aircraft with extra budget, after all the former Air Force generals publicly denounced the already pre-selected Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle.

The news must come as a shock to Boeing, who already counted on delivering more than 60 fighter aircraft to the Republic of Korean Air Force (RoKAF). The Silent Eagle was choosen earlier as a capable fighter for an affordable price. But the Korean generals rather want the newer, more stealthy and more modern Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, aka the Joint Strike Fighter.

The thing is: the F-35 is far from operational, while the RoKAF is looking for a quick replacement for its aging McDonnell Douglas F-4s and Northrop F-5s. Some experts therefore argue that Seoul might choose two aircraft, with anything from 50 or more F-35s, to a combination of 24 F-15SEs plus 35 F-35s, to 30 Eurofighter Typhoons plus 24 F-35s, to tens of Typhoons or F-15SEs with lease-options like a certain number of Saab JAS 39 Gripen to fill the gap until the F-35 is ready. Some even think Russian made jets might be considered by the South Koreans, but the most modern Sukhoi T-50 is only slightly closer to full combat readiness than the American-made F-35 so question is how serious such a bid will be. Nobody mentions the French made Rafale, however, which could be an interesting outsider in stead of the Typhoons.

A good thing about the re-opening of the fighter selection process is probably that the South Korean Ministry of Defence seems to recognize the advances made in China with their new and stealthier fighter jets, which might prove a class too high for the initially chosen F-15SE Silent Eagle when they find their way to the North Korean Air Force in a future war scenario.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

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