A head on view of the F-35A. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

A done deal: F-35 Lightning for South Korea

South Korea went head on for the F-35 this time. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
South Korea went head on for the F-35 this time. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Just over a year ago, everything seemed fine for Boeing and its F-15SE Silent Eagle, with an order for 60 jets from South Korea in the pipeline. But now, as announced on Wednesday 24 September 2014, the Republic of Korea and Lockheed Martin have finalized the order for forty F-35A Lightning II aircraft, and the Boeing F-15SE will forever be one of those aircraft that never was.

It last year practically took a revolt from former Air Force generals to stop Seoul from buying the newly re-designed F-15SE, to serve next 60 Boeing F-15K Slam Eagles already delivered to the Republic of South Korea Air Force (ROKAF). Eurofighter Typhoon was also considered. The decision for the F-15SE was however said to be mostly on money rather then effectiveness during a war against North Korea.

The F-X fighter acquisition program was reopened with the sole purpose of getting forty conventional take off F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft into the ROKAF inventory. Indeed, the F-35 was finally selected in March this year. The aircraft replace a fleet of old McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom aircraft, currently still operating from Cheongju airbase in central South Korea.

Boeing unveiled the prototype of the F-15 Silent Eagle in St. Louis, March 2009 (Image © Boeing)
Boeing unveiled the prototype of the F-15 Silent Eagle in St. Louis, March 2009 (Image © Boeing)

Worth
A Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) between the U.S. and Korean governments for the jets will be signed within weeks. The deal is worth 7 billion USD, with initial deliveries beginning in 2018. Of interest is that neighbour-on-not-always-friendly-terms Japan is to receive an initial 42 F-35As.

In a somewhat uncharacteristic message posted on Twitter on Wednesday, engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney says it appreciates the confidence that the Republic of South Korea has placed in the F-35 and in the F135 engine. It was the very same engine that caused a US F-35 to catch fire earlier this year, preventing the type to appear at its planned international airshow debut in the UK. The cancellation of the airshow tour was a major PR-embarrassment for both Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney. Meanwhile, the cause of the fire is said to have been narrowed down to four suspected parts of the engine, and a solution is being worked on on Pratt & Whitney’s expense.

Customers for the F-35 include the US, UK, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Israel, Japan and now South Korea. Orders from Canada are expected, and also Denmark and Belgium are looking into the new fighter aircraft to replace their aging F-16s.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

The days of this South Korean F-4E Phantom are numbered: the F-35A will take its place. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The days of this South Korean F-4E Phantom are numbered: the F-35A will take its place. (Image © Elmer van Hest)