The good news (unless you work for Boeing): Korea is reopening the bid for its next-generation fighter project:
South Korea on Tuesday rejected Boeing Co.’s bid to supply 60 fighter jets in the country’s largest-ever weapons purchase even though it was the sole remaining bidder, and said it would reopen the tender.
Boeing had offered its F-15 Silent Eagle, but South Korean critics have said the warplane lacks state-of-the-art stealth capabilities and cannot effectively cope with North Korea’s increasing nuclear threats.
Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said officials decided at a meeting Tuesday to delay naming a winning bidder for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.7 billion) purchase, and would restart the bidding process at an early date.
The bad news: I think this means the Ministry of Defense will find a way to buy the F-35. It’s the system the ROKAF wants and, judging from today’s editorial, it appears to be the system the Chosun Ilbo wants. And the Dong-A, for that matter.
We hear a lot of talk about libertarian populists and a new natsec paradigm among Republicans: it’s time for someone to walk the walk and lead the charge to scrap the F-35 program wholesale. It’s everything wrong with cronyist big government, and in the long run, it’s going to get Americans killed.
Of course, it would make a lot of folk really happy if the United States managed to produce an export version of the F-22.
Over at RealClearDefense, Jeong Lee examines the dilemma faced by the ROKAF and proposes some ways out:
One option would be to delay purchasing a new aircraft. This option would give Lockheed Martin time to enter mass production of the aircraft, at which time it might be able to offer a more affordable price. Lockheed has pledged to “work with the U.S. government on its offer of the F-35 fighter for [the ROK].” But if that offer does not translate into cheaper unit costs, it is meaningless. Even if Seoul agrees to buy the F-35, the structural disarmament that could result combined with budget shortfalls could cripple the ROK Air Force’s operational readiness.
Another option would be to reduce the size and budget of the ROK Army to accommodate the purchase of either the F-35 or the Eurofighter. But since the ROK Armed Forces remains Army-centric given the military threat from North Korea, this seems unlikely. As Michael Raska of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies has written, “the composition, force structure and deployment of the ROK military have each remained relatively unchanged” and will remain so in the years to come.
A more pragmatic approach would be to cancel the F-X purchase program and focus on enhancing its indigenous Korean Fighter eXperimental (KFX) program first unveiled in 2011. Since both Indonesia and the United States have agreed to work with the ROK in developing the 5th generation fighter program, the proposed KFX could be less challenging and costly to develop. Such a program could mitigate structural disarmament dynamics and enable a smoother transition if the ROK can eventually afford to purchase the F-35 rather than the F-15SE.
Jeong also suggests Korea could commit to developing Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs).