F-15K / FX Next-Generation Fighter
The F-X is one of four major weapons procurement projects started in 1999, all designed to modernize Korea's military. Others are a 2.1 trillion-won next-generation attack helicopter project (code named the AH-X), a 2.4 trillion-won surface-to-air missile project (SAM-X), and a 1.8 trillion won airborne surveillance project (E-X). The F-X program was marked by a series of revelations, accusations, and some criminal activity. The program was delayed, and became a flash point in a larger game of social and political acrimony.
The FX Next-Generation Fighter project requirements include the capability of flying within the Korean defense zone without needing mid-air refueling. Simultaneously, the fighter should be armed with internal cannons with a caliber of 20mm or more, cluster and laser-guided bombs and more than eight air-to-air missiles. The ROKAF puts top priority on a wider operational radius in promoting the next-generation fighter acquisition program to project air power for the long range and win air supremacy. The operational radius of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the mainstay in the Air Force's fighter fleet, is just 500 kilometers.
Under the FX fighter acquisition program, South Korea planned to purchase 40 combat aircraft at a cost of $3.2 billion, or 4.3 trillion won between 2004 and 2008 to replace its ageing F-4 Phantom fighter bombers, that should be decommissioned.
With the end of the Cold War and with the Sunshine Policy towards the North, the importance of the US-Korean military alliance weakened, allowing the introduction of international competition to Korea's weapons programs. Overt and [in Korean eyes] controversial pressure came from the governments of the nations involved in bidding for the program. This pressure was very much a 'carrot and stick' approach.
The four fighter jets for the FX Project selected by the Defense Ministry in May 1999 include Boeing's F-15E, France's Rafale, Russia's Su-35 and the Eurofighter-2000 design. The four contractors will submit their proposals to South Korea in September 1999 and the successful candidate will be chosen after test flights in June of 2000r. The 4.2 trillion won FX Project was delayed for years due to the country's budgetary constraints.
Dassault was one of the two finalists for the nation's multi-billion dollar F-X fighter project. Its Rafale edged out Boeing's F-15K by a margin of 1.1 percent in the first round of competition. The US model and the French-built Rafale, which led the four-way competition for the lucrative project, were very close in the first- stage evaluation of costs, operational capabilities, technology transfer and compatibilities with existing weapons systems. But the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Sukhoi Su-35 of Russia's Rosovoronexport were both dropped from the fiercely contested competition. All of the four contenders offered technology transfer and/or local production.
In October 2000 the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF), with assistance from the US Air Force and Boeing, concluded its rigorous flight evaluation of the F-15E Strike Eagle. Boeing had proposed the F-15K, a variant of the Strike Eagle, for South Korea's FX fighter aircraft competition. During the two weeks of testing, ROKAF, US Air Force and Boeing personnel supported 16 evaluation flights at Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US Air Force's 90th Fighter Squadron demonstrated the F-15E's air-to-air and air-to-ground mission performance and advanced handling characteristics during night as well as daylight flights. The F-15K would incorporate many improvements, including the APG-63(v)1 radar, the newest operational fighter radar, which brings improved capabilities to its APG-70 predecessor. It also would incorporate the latest in cockpit displays, navigation, early warning and other systems. Like the F-15E, the F-15K can carry a large array of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons. The F-15K also will share the F-15E's ability to perform low-altitude precision-strike missions in virtually any weather. Boeing assembles the F-15 in St. Louis.
The F-15K, an improved version of the F-15E multi-role fighter, can carry 23,000 pounds of weapons on 19 weapon stations, including the SLAM-ER cruise missile and JDAM smart weapon. No F-X competitor can match this payload capacity. Boeing said it would guarantee the development of an indigenous fighter by 2015 if Seoul selects its F-15K for the F-X project. F-15K is an upgraded model of F-15E Strike Eagle which has been the "workhorse" of the U.S. Air Force's fighter fleets over the past 30 years. The major U.S. defense contractor offered a $2.8-billion industrial transfer program to South Korea in connection with the fighter deal.
Lockheed Martin received an order from The Boeing Company to produce the advanced TIGER Eyes Sensor Suite for F-15K fighter jets recently ordered by the Republic of Korea Air Force. TIGER Eyes will provide these aircraft with enhanced targeting, navigation, terrain following and Infrared Search & Track (IRST) capability. An evolution of LANTIRN and US Navy's IRST air-to-air threat-detection technology, TIGER Eyes enables fighter aircraft aircrews to fly and engage the enemy day or night, in good weather or bad. In addition to supplying the targeting pod, navigation pod and IRST system hardware, the award includes training, spares, and logistic support.
In late April 2002, South Korea chose the U.S. company as the supplier of 40 next-generation fighters in consideration of its longstanding military alliance with the United States. South Korea choose Boeing's F-15K as the supplier for 40 fighter jets in a deal valued at more than $4 billion, and began a second phase of evaluation, which would focus heavily on the new fighters' interoperability with allied US forces.
Due to financial constraints, the KAF reduced the number of F-X aircraft from 120 to 40. The first two aircraft were delivered in October 2005 during the Seoul Air Show. As of March 2006 Korea had received the first four of 40 F-15Ks for the ROKAF, and eighteen had been introduced as of the end of 2006. The remainder were to be delivered by August 2008. In October 2008 the Air Force received its last batch of three F-15K fighters from Boeing under the 40-plane first-phase F-X program to introduce 120 high-end multi-role combat aircraf. With this latest addition the Air Force has a total of 39 F-15K aircraft, since a unit crashed in the waters off Pohang, some 320 kilometers southeast of Seoul, during a night mission in June 2006.
The government was to determine in May 2005 whether to buy additional next-generation fighter jets, after it completes introducing 40 F-15Ks under a procurement project, code-named F-X. Plans were being pushed forward to introduce forty F-15K fighters by 2008. South Korea had been pushing to introduce another 40 fighters after it concludes the F-X project in 2009 to replace its aging F-5 and F-4 jets.Under the second phase of the F-X next-generation warplane procurement project, South Korea decided to purchase 20 multi-role fighters via open bidding, with an investment of about 2.3 trillion won (about $2.4 billion). As of 2007, 20 "F-15K Class" fighters were in the ROK Defense Mid-Range Plan (DMP) with a 2007 program start planned. The ROKAF strongly supported an additional procurement of 20 F-15Ks.
South Korea signed Boeing with a $2.3 billion, 21-plane second phase F-X program in early 2008, with the aircraft to be delivered between 2010 and 2012. The 21 F-X-2 F-15Ks feature one key difference from the first 40: they use the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229-EEP extended life engine instead of GE's F110.
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