Controversy is simmering over the government’s procurement of a next-generation fighter jet, which will be finalized next month. As it turns out, the only aircraft that meets the government’s budget requirement for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.42 billion) procurement is Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle. As competing fighter jets such as Lockheed Martin’s F-35A and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company’s Eurofighters exceeded the budget limit, they were eliminated from the bidding process for the government’s third fighter jet program.
But controversy has not subsided as military experts cast strong doubts on the stealth capabilities of the Boeing F-15SE.
Among the three aircraft offered in the bidding process, the F-35A has the most advanced stealth capability because it was originally developed with the goal of maximizing the stealth function. Compared to that aircraft, the two other planes are almost lacking the pivotal stealth function or have unsatisfactory functions. In other words, the government cannot purchase the F-35A because of a reluctance to spend more money despite its apparent need to obtain the sophisticated capability in modern air warfare.
In fact, it is not easy for the Park Guen-hye administration to increase the budget for an ambitious fighter jet project particularly with decreasing tax revenues and soaring welfare expenditures. We think an alternative can be found in delaying the government’s final decision. If the administration decides to buy the F-35A, it inevitably has to pay more money. But if the government puts off its purchase of the aircraft until Lockheed Martin enters a mass production phase for that aircraft, it could probably meet both requirements of excellent capabilities and a more affordable price. Of course, this could lead to a security gap until we actually acquire the next generation planes. But that’s an acceptable trade-off.
Some military experts contend it would be better for us to choose the Eurofighter, whose manufacturer offered much better conditions in terms of technology transfer and offset programs, or the F-15SE, which single-handedly satisfied our government’s budget requirement.
Whatever choice the government makes, it should be based on clear goals and persuasive logic. It must avoid a decision that would only cause controversy without meeting the increasing demands of the Air Force. Furthermore, the government must push forward the project as transparently as possible if it does not want to follow in the corruption-ridden footsteps of previous administrations.