Warplanes: January 22, 2005


South Korea will put its first two F-15K fighter-bombers into service this year. These two airplanes are the first of 40 to be flown by the South Korean Air Force, the product of South Koreas four year, $4.6 billion F-X Program to replace its fighter fleet, which is currently  comprised primarily of the 1970s-vintage F-4D/E airplanes. The F-15K is a two-seat aircraft employing the AN/APG-63(v)1 radar with both air-to-air and air-to-ground modes with capabilities for ground-moving target track, sea-surface search/track and enhanced high-resolution ground mapping. The sensor suite incorporates third-generation targeting and navigation Forward Looking Infrared Search and Track, plus a terrain-following system. Self protection systems include the ALR-56C(v)1 early warning receiver and the ALQ-135M jammer. The 64-foot-long F-15K, powered by two GE F110 turbofan afterburner engines delivering 29,000 pounds thrust each, has a max takeoff weight of 81,000 pounds. It is armed with a mix of air-to-air weaponry, including 20mm cannon, AIM-120 (AMRAAM) missiles, AIM-9 (Sidewinder) missiles, AIM-7 (Sparrow) missiles, and air-to-ground precision guided munitions, including the JDAM smart bomb. In all, it can carry an impressive 23,000 pounds of weapons on 19 stations. 

The deal reportedly includes an additional $3 billion in jobs and technology for South Korea, which hopes to develop its own fighter by 2015. This is the first export order for the F-15 since an Israeli order in 1994. Over 1,500 F-15s have been built. The final F-15E delivery for the US Air Force was scheduled in 2004. 

The initial F-X tender saw four candidates (the Sukhoi SU-35, Boeing F-15, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Dassault Rafale), and was subsequently rocked by scandal and controversy. In 2002 a South Korean Air Force colonel was court-martialed and sentenced to three years in prison on charges of bribery (allegedly $9,300 from Dassault) and disclosing classified information to competitors. When Boeing won the bid, critics charged that the fix was in since the F-15K an upgrade of the F-15E was widely criticized as being based upon obsolete technology while French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation SA had offered more advanced technology at a lower price. Tempers were further inflamed by President Bushs personal urging that the ROK buy the F-15K at a time when the US was talking troop reductions in South Korea while labeling North Korea an element in the Axis of Evil. South Korea subsequently decided to buy the airplanes engines from GE, a company with which a high governmental officials family allegedly had financial connections, rather than from long-time supplier Pratt & Whitney. This simply further aggravated an already bad political situation. 

After the first two F-15Ks are delivered late in 2005, the rest are to be flying by the end of 2008. This acquisition follows news that South Korea will be deciding upon the supplier of four AEW aircraft in a separate $1.7 billion bid. The two AEW contenders are Boeing and IAI ELTA (Israel). K.B. Sherman




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