Military vies to secure 60 fighter jets by 2021 mark

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Military vies to secure 60 fighter jets by 2021 mark

The state weapons acquisition agency held a bidding information session yesterday to buy 60 stealth fighter jets by 2021.

The state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) gave detailed explanations for a group of overseas contenders running for the bid of the unprecedented warplane procurement project, in which the government will spend a total of 8.3 trillion won ($7.4 billion) on importing 60 next-generation stealth fighters between 2016 and 2021, in an effort to replace aging aircraft such as the F-4 and F-5 and build capacity against North Korea’s military.

Currently, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, Boeing’s F-15-SE Silent Eagle, EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon and Sukhoi’s T-50 PAK-FA are vying for the bid. The DAPA said 23 officials from U.S. firms Lockheed and Boeing, the pan-European EADS and Sweden’s Saab attended yesterday’s session and the number of contenders hasn’t been fixed yet.

“All communication related to the business will be carried out in fair and transparent circumstances and the result will be announced as an official document,” Wi Jong-seong, an air force colonel who is in charge of directing the F-X program, said at the session partially opened to reporters yesterday.

Until last year, the F-35 seemed to be the frontrunner in the unprecedented bidding competition, but speculation is rising that the price of the advanced fighter could skyrocket due to the Pentagon’s recent defense budget cut. Korea’s Air Force reportedly want the F-35, but criticism is rising among liberal activists that the newest U.S. model hasn’t experienced any combat and it is already too expensive.

“All of the expected candidates are evaluated to fulfill our required operation capability [ROC],” Wi said. “We will operate a weapon system that maximized the ROC of aircraft and carry out the business in a transparent and fair way for the national interest.”

The DAPA said the candidate aircraft will be scrutinized based on its 150 evaluation standards, such as adaptability for military use, capacity for joint operation and maintenance costs. And all of the candidates should have a component produced by Korean companies. The agency will accept proposals until mid-June, evaluate them in July and make a final decision on the purchase in October. It will adopt the first next-generation fighter jet in 2016 and adopt the remaining 59 by 2021.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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