PARIS — European aerospace giant EADS said Thursday it has renewed hopes to win a multi-billion-dollar fighter jet contract with South Korea after Seoul decided to restart its tender process.
Paraphrasing British wartime leader Winston Churchill, EADS chief Thomas Enders said “never, never give up.”
South Korea decided Tuesday against awarding a $7.7 billion jet fighter deal to Boeing — the sole remaining candidate — and said it would re-tender its largest ever defense contract.
The deal to provide 60 advanced combat fighters was aimed at replacing the air force’s aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s and had initially attracted bids from Boeing, US rival Lockheed Martin and EADS.
The Eurofighter, which EADS builds in cooperation with Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Finmeccanica, was excluded in August for reportedly not meeting the tender criteria.
But Enders said Thursday: “We do think it was compliant and I think we have successfully corrected” that impression.
South Korea’s state Defence Acquisition Programme Administration apparently decided that Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagles did not meet the air force’s current requirements, especially in the light of the nuclear threat from North Korea.
A major criticism of the F-15 SE was that it lacked the radar-evading stealth capabilities of other modern jet fighters like the Lockheed Martin’s F-35.
Despite the South Koreans traditionally favoring US military equipment, Enders said bidding for the contract was “worth a try because we have a very good product now.”
He noted if “you compare us with the competitors, the F-15 is much older and the F-35 is not really operational.”
The F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, is still undergoing testing by the US military.
In an effort to sweeten its costlier bid, EADS had offered a $2.0 billion investment in a separate South Korean project to develop its own advanced fighter jets if the consortium is chosen, as well as assembling the Eurofighters in South Korea.
But aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia at the US-based Teal Group was sceptical of the Eurofighter’s chances.
He said the South Korean air force has implied the only something truly modern would meet their needs.
The new South Korean appeal for offers “will simply become an F-35 acquisition,” he wrote in his monthly newsletter.