Competitors in South Korea's long-running F-X fighter procurement believe the process may take a final twist before a winner is selected, although a decision is widely expected next month.

F-X contenders consist of the Boeing F-15K, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Sukhoi Su-35. At least two bidders, Boeing and Eurofighter, believe Seoul may "de-scope" the requirement after the ongoing assessment phase, which is due to end in the selection of a winner in April.

South Korea's fighter acquisition has been plagued by the fall in the won's strength against the dollar, forcing the ministry of national defence (MND) to revise its budget, and to shelve some procurements to make money available for F-X.

Boeing director Korea programmes Skip Bennett says he has "no feel" for how Seoul will scale-down the F-X. He says trimming aircraft numbers is unlikely, but eliminating the requirement to maintain system software could be one solution.

Eurofighter International president Cesare Gianni says Seoul has not indicated how, or whether, it will cut the F-X requirement. Options include reducing from 36 the number of aircraft acquired or spreading the costs by ordering an initial batch of fighters with a second at a later stage. Alternatively, partnering with one of the four partner nation air forces could save money, he says. Such a link could include shared logistics or training.

Dassault says it no longer believes Seoul will scale down the F-X, adding "we believe South Korea will find the money." Dassault's view may be swayed by press reports from Seoul that it offered the lowest bid in the MND's "auction" earlier this year. According to the reports, Dassault's bid was $4.17 billion, while Boeing's was $4.4 billion and Eurofighter's $4.5 billion.

Source: Flight International