The F-15 is leading a determined Boeing assault on an Asian market that will represent the bulk of defence opportunities over the next decade, writes Guy Norris

On the eve of this year's Asian Aerospace show, a brand-new Boeing F-15K destined for the South Korean air force flying at 20,000ft (6,100m) successfully dropped three Mk82 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) at once, all scoring direct hits.

Aside from being yet another feather in the Eagle's well-stuffed cap, the multiple JDAM milestone could not have come at a better time for Boeing and its efforts to find new business in Asia for what it bills as the world's most capable multi-role fighter. The reinvigorated aircraft is being delivered to South Korea, has been selected by Singapore and is being pushed for Japan's F-X fighter contest.

The weapons tests, conducted last week at Eglin AFB, Florida, were the first guided releases of JDAM from an F-15K and are part of an integration programme that will clear the aircraft to carry up to 12 of the weapons on the conformal fuel tank pylon stations. The F-15K will be the first F-15 variant to have this capability, adding to an already formidable array that includes Harpoon Block II, SLAM ER, AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles.

The South Korean air force has received the first four of 40 F-15Ks, with the remainder of the fighters being delivered up to August 2008, by when Boeing will also begin delivering the first of 12 F-15SGs to the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

These replace retired McDonnell Douglas A-4SU Skyhawks, with all 12 aircraft due to be delivered by the end of 2009.

Mueller Boeing W167Details about what weapons and systems will be fitted to the Singapore aircraft remain scarce, but George Muellner, president of advanced systems for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, says: "It is a truly fifth-generation fighter aircraft."

Muellner (pictured left), formerly vice-president and general manager of air force systems for Integrated Defense Systems until the recent reorganisation, puts the F-15 in the phalanx of a determined Boeing attack on the Asia-Pacific markets, which represent as much as 65- 70% of the known international defence business opportunities through to 2015. "We are delivering to Korea and they're happy with the aircraft from what we hear," says Muellner, who adds that "even beyond the 40 currently on order we hope they might be interested in additional aircraft”. Singapore similarly may extend its F-15 purchase "beyond the 12”, says Muellner, who adds that the Singapore air force "has additional interest downstream”.

Boeing is also "responding to queries from Japan for its F-X next-generation fighter”, says Muellner. "There are a wide range of options in that hunt, and we're advancing the F-15, while some have expressed interest in the F/A-18E/F. However, we don't think that's going to coalesce until a couple of years." The Japan competition, which also now includes the Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has a 40-60 aircraft requirement, but is not expected to firm up into a formal contest until 2007 or 2008. "Because of the F-15J, the F-15 has a following in Japan and one of the things we're asking the Japanese to do is for them to choose, so we're not in there competing with ourselves. However, if it gets down to it and we were the best two finalists, then that's a different matter," he adds.

Boeing is also working on Thailand to consider the F/A-18E/F for its next-generation fighter requirement in efforts to stave off competition from the Lockheed F-16C/D, Saab/BAE Systems Gripen and Sukhoi Su-30. Thailand is expected to make a decision on its requirement, covering between 12 and 18 aircraft for delivery by 2011 by the end of this year. "There may be an opportunity to engage with them over the next six months," says Boeing.

Boeing also continues to provide updates on the Super Hornet to Malaysia, an F/A-18D operator that has been considering the F model since 2001, and is also providing information on the aircraft to India. "We have an on-going dialogue with India over the F/A-18," says Muellner, who adds that "the economies over there are coming back very strongly now”. A request for proposals for 126 fighters from 2009 or 2010 is expected to be released by May. India is also evaluating the F-16, Dassault Mirage 2000-5, Gripen and RSK MiG-29.

Boeing is also chasing transport, maritime patrol and command and control (C2) requirements in the region with the C-17, KC-767 and P-8A all in the hunt for potential sales. The case is perhaps most critical for the C-17 production of which, without any fresh orders, is due to begin winding down as early as late 2006 in advance of termination in 2008. "We've had several countries express an interest in the C-17 around the Asia-Pacific area, particularly as strategic lift is becoming more important to everybody," Muellner says.

Tanker work is focused on the KC-767J for Japan, with the first of up to four aircraft undergoing conversion in Wichita, Kansas before its planned delivery in December.  The KC-767 was selected over its competitor, the Airbus A310, in direct competition in 2001, and will be equipped with the Remote Aerial Refueling Operator II system. Aside from Japan, Muellner concedes that "beyond that there's not a lot of push in Asian countries for that requirement”.

There is more activity, however, for maritime patrol and C2 requirements, with Boeing planning to offer its 737-800-based P-8A Multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA) as early as 2011. India is the first potential export target and Boeing expects to secure US government approval to offer the aircraft there as early as March, when it is required to submit a bid for eight maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

Competing against bids from BAE Systems, EADS, Ilyushin and Lockheed Martin, Boeing expects to submit proposals by mid-March. India is expected to be ready to sign a contract for new maritime patrol aircraft as early as 2007 and Boeing believes it could secure initial P-8A delivery positions by 2011 despite the fact that the launch customer for the P-8A, the US Navy, is not scheduled to start initial operating capability until 2013. Boeing forecasts international export sales of almost 110 P-8As over the next 20 years.

Source: Flight Daily News