Boeing and Korea Aerospace Industries have entered a memorandum of agreement for the Korean firm to design, develop and manufacture the conformal weapons bays for the former's F-15 Silent Eagle.
The announcement is significant because South Korea is likely to issue a request for proposals for its F-X3 fighter contract in the first quarter of 2011. In a deal that could number up to 60 aircraft, the F-15SE will compete with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Eurofighter Typhoon to replace the country's ageing Northrop F-5s and McDonnell Douglas F-4s.
The F-15SE's conformal weapons bays will provide internal carriage and reduce the aircraft's radar signature. Boeing has claimed that the F-15SE will provide the frontal-aspect stealth provided by fifth-generation fighters.
Its weapons bays can carry air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions, and can also be retrofitted to legacy F-15s.
"Korean industry is an important partner and supplier to Boeing," says Boeing Korea head Pat Gaines. "This agreement with KAI will strengthen and deepen a mutually beneficial relationship."
The US government approved an export policy for the F-15SE in the second quarter of 2010, after Boeing submitted details of its radar cross-section characteristics about six months earlier. The approval allows the company to request an export licence for specific customers, with South Korea seemingly the first in the queue.
Seoul prefers a high level of industrial participation in its military aircraft. KAI already builds the wings and forward fuselage for the air force's F-15K fleet, and works with Boeing on other programmes. These include the AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter, 737-based airborne early warning and control system aircraft - being acquired by South Korea through the "Peace Eye" programme - a wing replacement programme for the US Air Force's Fairchild A-10 ground-attack aircraft. The arrangement also extends to all Boeing commercial aircraft programmes, the US company says.