WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has laid out the parameters for possible sales to South Korea of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which handles foreign military sales for the Defense Department, notified Congress of the potential sales on March 29, according to documents released this morning. The two fighters, along with Eurofighter’s Typhoon model, are the finalists for South Korea’s F-XIII competition. The country is expected to make a final decision later this year on which plane will replace its aging F-4 jets.
“The proposed sale will augment Korea’s operational aircraft inventory and enhance its air-to-air and air-to-ground self-defense capability, provide it with a credible defense capability to deter aggression in the region, and ensure interoperability with U.S. forces,” DSCA said in an April 2 statement.
The notifications are not necessarily a sign that the South Korean military will shortly reach a decision. Instead, it lays out what a potential sale might look like, so if the South Korean armed forces decide to pick one of the American fighters they can quickly sign a contract.
The JSF sale would be for 60 of the F-35A conventional takeoff-and-landing models. The planes, along with associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support, would be worth $10.8 billion. Included in that contract are nine spare engines from Pratt & Whitney. The contract is a foreign military sale (FMS), where the U.S. government acts as a broker between contractor Lockheed Martin and the South Korean armed forces.
In contrast, the Silent Eagle would be sold via a combination of FMS and direct commercial sale (DCS) from Boeing to the South Korean military. The DSCA announcement listed a price of $2.4 billion for 60 of the modified F-15s; however, that number only covers the FMS portion of the deal. It is unknown at this time how much that total will raise.
“The formal congressional notification process supporting the Republic of Korea’s F-X Next Fighter Program has occurred,” Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the JSF joint program office, wrote in a statement. “The notification does not pre-suppose that the F-35 has been selected, but is an administrative requirement in order for Korea to consider a US Government Foreign Military Sales offer. Evaluations of the three competitive offers (F-35, Boeing’s “Silent Eagle” and Eurofighter) including price discussions, are on-going.”
“Lockheed Martin is pleased that the formal congressional notification process supporting the Republic of Korea’s F-X Next Fighter Program has now occurred,” Laura Siebert, Lockheed spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Lockheed Martin is honored to partner with the USG to offer the F-35 to meet Korea’s demanding security needs for the next 30-40 years. The 5th Generation F-35 combines all-aspect stealth with the most advanced avionics ever integrated into a fighter aircraft, providing a quantum leap in capability over all 4th generation aircraft.”
“Boeing is pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the F-X competition and build on our longstanding partnership with the Republic of Korea,” Boeing said in a company statement. ”We are confident our Silent Eagle offering is best suited to address F-X requirements. Silent Eagle builds on a continuous evolution of capability in the combat-proven F-15 family of aircraft with a bundle of additional capabilities that allow us to offer a unique ‘2-Aircraft-in-1-Platform’ solution that brings an unprecedented blend of balanced survivability and lethality to meet customer needs in all phases of air combat. Our progressive evolutionary-design approach positions us to offer our ROK customer a highly capable, yet low-risk and affordable Silent Eagle F-X solution on a schedule that meets ROK requirements.”
Matthew Bates, P&W spokesman, wrote in a statement: “Pratt & Whitney is pleased that the Congressional notification process has begun requesting the potential sale of 60 F-35 Lightning II aircraft to the Government of the Republic of Korea. The F-35 would complement Korea’s self-defense capability. Pratt & Whitney is proud of our decades-long partnership with the Republic of Korea Air Force in providing our dependable F100 family of engines and affordable readiness in support of their fleet of F-16 and F-15K fighters, and we hope to continue this relationship powering a ROKAF F-35 fleet with our 5th generation F135 engine.”
The announcements come at a time of mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula, as U.S. forces are being positioned around the region in response to threats from North Korea. On Wednesday North Korean officials shut down the Kaesong industrial complex, a joint industrial project between the two nations, the latest move in a series of provocations from the North Korean government that began with a February nuclear test.
However, it is unlikely DSCA’s announcements are tied into the current situation, due to the time it takes for these notifications to be processed.