South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has issued a request for proposals for its F-X III fighter requirement, paving the way for the acquisition of around 60 fighters.
The submission guidelines were issued at a meeting in Seoul yesterday. The contenders for the requirement are the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Sukhoi PAKFA was previously mentioned as a contender, but media reports in South Korea and Russia indicate that Sukhoi did not attend the meeting. The reports suggest that Saab, which produces the JAS 39 Gripen, was in attendance, although it is unclear if the Swedish firm will submit a bid.
According to Seoul's Yonhap news agency, the aircraft will be judged by four primary criteria and 150 secondary criteria. The four main criteria are cost, capability, interoperability with South Korean forces and industrial benefits. Seoul is likely to require the F-X III winner to provide significant help with its indigenous KFX fighter programme.
Bids for the F-X III competition are due by 18 June, with a decision possible by late 2012. DAPA did not specify the number of aircraft it intends to obtain under F-X III, but in the past industry sources have said the number is around 60. The aircraft will replace the Republic of Korea Air Force's McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms.
Industry observers feel the race is primarily between the F-35 and F-15SE. The F-35 programme scored an important victory in the region recently when it won Japan's F-X competition for 42 aircraft, where it beat another Boeing aircraft, the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and the Typhoon.
Boeing's F-15 programme also received a major boost recently with the confirmation of an order for 84 F-15SA aircraft from Saudi Arabia, which also included upgrades to 70 F-15S aircraft.
At the Seoul Air Show in October 2011, Lockheed and Boeing representatives stressed the respective merits of their aircraft. Lockheed highlighted the ability of the stealthy F-35 to penetrate enemy airspace, while Boeing emphasised the F-15SE's heavy weapons payload coupled with new low observable features that would be of great utility in the early days of a war.
"We're moving forward with all the Silent Eagle's core capabilities," said Howard Berry, Boeing vice-president for sales "Silent Eagle is a bundle of new capabilities brought to the existing F-15."
Windtunnel tests will start by March or April on a scale model of the F-15SE with conformal weapons bays. The weapons bays, which are modified conformal fuel tanks, allow the F-15 to store weapons internally and lower the aircraft's profile to radars.