There is some degree of contradiction between news sources but it appears as if the F-15 silent eagle has won the F-X III competition by default as both the F-35 and Eurofighter might have been eliminated. The F-35 was reportedly eliminated by some sources as the $10.8 billion dollar Lockheed Martin proposal exceeded the budgetary limit of $7.4 allocated to F-X III. Requests to increased the budget of F-X III made on behalf of the DAPA (Defense Acquisition Program Administration) were denied by the South Korean Government.
"The DAPA procurement agency will only confirm that at least 1 bidder was within the budget, but Yonhap News Agency confirms that the F-35 disqualified itself by bidding over budget. The Korea Times cites an unnamed “industry source” who says that Eurofighter and Boeing both bid within the limits" - Defense Industry Daily, 2013
Its important to note Lockheed has yet to formally receive a notification by the DAPA and Lockheed maintains it continues to work with the South Korean Government to find an appropriate solution.
"'The F-35 is still in the race technically for the final evaluations, but the aircraft is eliminated in reality if the DAPA announcement has no lies,' said Shin In-kyun, an analyst at the Korea Defense Network, a private defense think tank...'We’ll keep watching the situations until the DAPA’s selection committee ends,' a Lockheed official said. 'This fighter selection program is critical for the Republic of Korea’s national interests for the next 30 or 40 years ahead, and the F-35 is the only future-oriented aircraft meeting the needs.'" - Defense News, 2013
Some news sources claim that both the Eurofighter and the silent eagle remain in the competition but other media sources claim the Eurofighter was eliminated due to unilateral bidding changes made on behalf of EADS which disqualify it from F-X III.
"EADS is known as the company to have stepped out of the race, according to sources in Seoul. 'We disqualified the concerned company and will consider the remaining one firm as a candidate in the committee for defense procurement projects,' the DAPA said in a release, citing 'flaws found in the bidding documents' as reasons of the elimination. Although the DAPA required the bidders to submit prices for 15 two-seater jets and 45 single-seat jets, EADS reduced the number of double-seater aircraft to six, and offered prices based on the British pound, according to a company official." - YONHAP News Agency, 2013
If its true that the Eurofighter has also been eliminated, than the silent eagle won by default rather than by its own merits. Both the other contenders failed to meet contract criteria on budget and documentation rather than on a scrupulous performance based evaluation which is somewhat disappointing. Although many, including myself, believed the F-35 would win the F-X III competition, its not totally surprising if the silent eagle wins the contract. The shared commonality between South Korea's existing F-15K fleet and the silent eagle is a major benefit for Boeing. Last year Boeing announced it would set up a maintenance, repair, and overhaul facility (MRO) Daegu-Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone to support South Korea's 60 F-15Ks. Its likely that the new silent eagles would be able to take advantage of the planned infrastructure facilities and reduce costs. Furthermore, Boeing has pledged more than $1.2 billion dollars in parts and manufacturing for the silent eagle to assist South Korea.
Given the amount of contradiction between news sources and the fact that the F-35 is still technically in the race, its not safe for Boeing to celebrate just yet. Furthermore, many South Korean Air Force (ROKAF) officials have repeatedly expressed a preference for F-35 over the other F-X III contenders (Defense News, 2013). Its worthwhile to wait and see before definitely giving the win to the silent eagle even if the initial reports look promising for Boeing. Fighter procurement contracts can often be a mess resulting from budgetary, technical, and post-contract bidding related issues (e.g. India's MMRCA, Brazil's F-X2, and the UAE's Rafale contract).
For a detailed technical evaluation of the F-15SE:
- F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part I The North Korean Threat
- F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part II The Silent Eagle
- F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part III The Silent Eagle
- F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part IV The Silent Eagle
- Lockheed says S. Korea jet fighter contest not over, Reuters, 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/18/usa-southkorea-fighter-idUSL2N0GJ0B720130818
- Korea’s F-X Multi-Role Fighter Buys: Phases 2 & 3, Defense Industry Daily, 2013. https://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/koreas-fx-multirole-fighter-buy-phase-2-the-race-is-on-02966/
- (2nd LD) Boeing's F-15SE reportedly chosen as final candidate for S. Korea's next fighter plane, YONHAP, 2013. http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2013/08/18/82/0301000000AEN20130818001451315F.html
- Sources: F-35 Bid Exceeds S. Korean Fighter Budget, Defense News, 2013. http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130818/DEFREG03/308180003/Sources-F-35-Bid-Exceeds-S-Korean-Fighter-Budget?odyssey=nav%7Chead
- EADS’ bid to sell fighter jets is thrown out, Korean Joongang Daily, 2013. http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2976289
- Boeing to set up F-15K MRO centre in S Korea, Greg Waldron, 2012. http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/boeing-to-set-up-f-15k-mro-centre-in-s-korea-376031/
F-35A, Image Credit: Lockheed Martin