Multi-mission aircraft hailed as success as further foreign interest builds in acquiring type’s new equipment options

Unveiling of the first Boeing F-15K last week at the Seoul air show has sparked interest from several F-15 operators in equipment options that are being introduced in the South Korean aircraft. The F-15K is the first F-15 to be equipped with Boeing SLAM-ER and Harpoon missiles, making it “a true multi-mission aircraft”, says F-15K programme manager Stephen Winkler.


He says Israel may also include the new weapon options if it buys additional F-15Is, and Saudi Arabia could include them in an F-15S upgrade. Boeing is still discussing a final configuration with Singapore, but its F-15T is expected to have all the options featured on the F-15K, plus the APG-63V(3) active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. South Korea is the first international customer for the electronically scanned APG-63V(1), which is already fitted on nearly all US Air Force F-15s, and may later upgrade to AESA.

The USAF could also opt for several of the newly available options if it decides to acquire F-15s for multi-role missions as part of its Quadrennial Defence Review. In addition to AESA, SLAM-ER and Harpoon, Winkler says the Smart Diameter Bomb, wideband datalink and digital radar warning receivers will soon be available on the F-15.

SLAM-ER is part of an air-to-ground enhancement package in the F-15K, which also includes 15 smart-weapon stations, compared with nine on the F-15E. South Korea is Boeing’s first export customer for SLAM-ER, but Boeing vice-president of weapons Mark McGraw says at least five other air forces have expressed interest in acquiring the stand-off missile in the near to mid-term. Harpoon, which previously was only available on the Boeing F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin F-16, gives the South Korean air force an anti-ship capability. McGraw expects more F-15 operators to add an anti-ship capability and says the USAF is now considering Harpoon along with SLAM-ER and derivatives of the JDAM GPS-guided bomb and JASSM cruise missile to meet a new proposed maritime interdiction role for its F-15s. The F-15K is also the first F-15 to be powered by General Electric F110-129A engines.

GE manufactured the first 10 engines in Ohio, but the remaining 78 engines will be assembled locally by Samsung Techwin. “Samsung is building 20% of the new engine, testing and assembling it here,” says F110 F-15 programmes manager Mark Miller.

Other local partners in the F-15K programme include Korea Aerospace Industries for the wing and forward fuselage, Korean Air Aerospace for flap and aileron parts, WIA for landing-gear components, Hanwha for flight-control elements, NEX1 Future for radar and head-up display parts, Doosan for embedded GPS/INS and Samsung Thales for electronic countermeasures system and radar warning receiver components.

Restrictions faced as testing continues

While South Korea will formally take delivery of its first F-15K early next month, the first fully equipped aircraft will not be delivered until the middle of next year. F-15K programme manager Stephen Winkler says the first two F-15Ks will continue to be flight tested in St Louis until May 2006.

Testing began in March 2005 with the first aircraft serving as a flight-test asset and the second as a ground-test vehicle. Until the testing is complete next May, South Korea will not be able to use the SLAM-ER or Harpoon missiles, or the Raytheon APG-63V(1) radar because the integration software still has to be proven.

“We’ll really get more involved as we get more F-15 flights and get more data to analyse,” says Raytheon director of new business for F-15 radar programmes Arnold Victor. “We have a lot of work to complete.”

While over 150 USAF F-15s are now equipped with the APG-63V(1), air-to-ground modes had to be added for the F-15K radar, including ground moving-target indication and tracking. A new mode also had to be developed for sea surface search. Although F-15K testing continues in St Louis the third and fourth aircraft arrived in South Korea on 7 October and were displayed last week at the Seoul air show 2005.

Boeing will fly the aircraft to Daegu airbase at the end of next week, where they will go through a final batch of acceptance tests before formally being handed over to the South Korean air force in early November.

The fifth and sixth aircraft are being flown in St Louis this month and are to be delivered to South Korea in December. Two more aircraft will be delivered in May 2006 and two additional aircraft will be delivered roughly every 75 days until the 40th aircraft is handed over in August 2008.

Victor says radar software may have to be retrofitted on the first six aircraft after flight testing is concluded in May, but this can be easily achieved and will not require any hardware changes.

Source: Flight International