South Korea plans to acquire 60 fighter jets from one of 3 candidates, who have been competing since 2010 for the contract:
- the American F-35
- the American F-15 Silent Eagle
- the European Eurofighter Typhoon
The Eurofighter Typhoon is the most mature platform of the 3 competitors. While its air-to-air capability is fairly well developed, its air-to-ground capability does remain significantly behind.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is in service in a number of countries already and has won recent contracts in Oman. It may also win in other countries such as the United Arab Emirates.
Both the F-35 and F-15SE are not ready at this point and still have a lot of testing and development ahead of them. The F-35 is probably the most advanced on paper and a true fifth generation fighter.
However, the F-35 has encountered lots of problems recently. A number of countries have reduced or cancelled some orders and the cost of the aircraft is rapidly escalating.
The F-15SE has the advantage in that it is the next iteration of the F-15, which is already in service in South Korea after placing orders for 61 F-15K aircraft. The F-15K is a variant of the F-15E Strike Eagle modified for South Korea.
The F-15SE improves on its predecessors by reducing its Radar Cross Section. It offers some fifth generation features such as internal weapons carriage. However, if South Korea orders it, it will be the only operator of the aircraft.
South Korea does have the tendency to favor American companies in arms purchases for strategic reasons. Increased tensions with North Korea recently can only increase emphasis on interoperability with American equipment.
However, American companies do sometimes lose in South Korea. This was proven again when the European AW159 was surprisingly selected over the American Seahawk helicopter.
There is currently no clear favorite to win the competition. All three parties are still jockeying for position. EADS just recently offered South Korea local production of 48 Typhoons instead of the earlier offer of 30.
As the date of the final decision comes closer, candidates may decide to sweeten their offer in the hopes of securing the win. Whatever the outcome, it's likely to be only decided at the last moment.
By U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery.Jogrkim [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons