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South Korea’s defence ministry approves 20 Boeing F-15K fighters to keep line alive until 2011

By Brendan Sobie in Singapore

The following correction was added on 19 May 2006

The IAI-led proposal includes radar integration by DRS Technologies and not the L-3 Communications, as we said in the article below.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) has approved the acquisition of a follow-on batch of 20 Boeing F-15K fighters for the country’s air force, in a move which could safeguard the US manufacturer’s production line for the type until at least 2011.

The MND decided to include additional F-15Ks in its new five-year spending plan during a key acquisition meeting yesterday, say industry sources, who expect the deal to receive final approval from South Korea’s legislature later this year. A contract should be signed in the first half of next year, with deliveries to begin from late 2009 or early 2010.

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Seoul originally sought to buy 120 F-15Ks, but placed a launch order for 40 nationally-configured F-15Ks in 2002. Its air force has already taken delivery of four aircraft, with another two to be delivered next month and the last platform from its initial order scheduled for delivery in August 2008. The air force is understood to have requested the expansion of its F-15K fleet to 80 aircraft under the new five-year plan, but sources say funds could only be found for a 20-aircraft deal.

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The announcement comes as welcome news for Boeing, which has been lobbying to secure follow-on F-15 orders from Singapore, South Korea and the US Air Force to avoid a break in its production from late 2009, when Singapore’s last of 12 F-15SGs will be delivered. South Korea has not yet requested delivery slots for its proposed new batch of 20 aircraft, but based on Boeing’s current build rate its order would secure F-15 production until the second half of 2011. The deal will also give Singapore up to two more years to decide whether to exercise options for another eight F-15SGs.

South Korea will decide over the next few years whether to buy a third batch of F-15Ks or move forward with a separate F-X fighter programme now under study. It is also considering a $2 billion package of upgrades to its current fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters.

Boeing could meanwhile be poised to receive a further orders boost from South Korea next month, following an MND decision to delay a selection on a new fleet of four airborne early warning and control aircraft until next month. Boeing is offering a modified 737 airliner with Northrop Grumman’s Mesa radar to meet the requirement, facing competition from an Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)-led proposal to supply Gulfstream 550s equipped with Elta Phalcon radars integrated by L-3 Communications.

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But with the IAI-led team expected to receive a deadline to secure the required export clearances from the US government by mid-June, some sources suggest it will be impossible for the company to meet these terms, clearing the way for a sole-source deal with Boeing.

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