By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
South Korea’s Ministry of Defense announced Jan. 17 that it will open bidding for the procurement of 20 “next-generation” multirole fighter aircraft for a projected $2.4 billion.
Only twin-engine jets are being sought, which rules out the Lockheed Martin F-35.
Boeing is an early favorite. In 2002, the Chicago-based firm won a $4.6 billion contract for 40 F-15K fighters, beating out the Sukhoi Su-35, Typhoon and the Eurofighter.
Korean NEX1 Future has awarded BAE Systems a $13.7 million contract to supply flight-control computer kits for the Korea Aerospace Industries supersonic T/A-50 aircraft, which was developed with Lockheed Martin.
“The contract award culminates a great deal of work by many capable people at both NEX1 and BAE Systems,” BAE said in a Jan. 16 press release.
Lee Seon-hee, commissioner of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, just concluded a visit to Washington to discuss the sale of the T/A-50 to the U.S. Air Force.
In May, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee directed the Air Force to study the idea of buying the T/A-50 to replace the T-38 and to become the trainer for the F-22 and F-35 fighters.
The aircraft will begin mass production in February and is priced at $20 million apiece.
Lee’s visit also included renewed discussions over the procurement of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle.
In 2005, U.S. officials declined a request to export the Global Hawk to Korea, saying they feared the unauthorized transfer of technology to a third country and citing restrictions outlined by the Missile Technology Control Regime.
But in June, Japan received permission to buy the aircraft, and Korea reacted with frustration and anger.
The success of Lee’s visit remains unknown, but a source in Seoul believes the Global Hawk will eventually be approved under the Foreign Military Sales program.
Korea has an indigenous UAV program. It developed the Night Intruder 300 UAV in the 1990s, deployed with the military, and is currently developing two new UAVs, a medium-altitude long-endurance UAV to replace the Night Intruder and an advanced UAV dubbed the Smart UAV.
Some analysts have suggested that U.S. refusal to sell the Global Hawk to Korea had more to do with growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Seoul. Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was elected in 2003 in part due to an anti-U.S. platform. Anti-American and anti-Japanese feelings in Korea have been rampant for years.