South Korea will also take delivery this month of the first of 40 Boeing F-15Ks, but has postponed any consideration of additional fighters for at least one and possibly several years.

Seoul awarded a contract in 2002 for 40 Boeing F-15s powered by General Electric F100-129 engines for deliveries beginning in November 2005. Boeing plans to have a ceremonial handover during the Seoul air show and formally sign the delivery papers following the conclusion of the show on 23 October.

The first two F-15Ks, which have been test flying in the USA since March, arrived in South Korea earlier this month. One aircraft will be on static display and another will perform a fly-by during the 18 October opening ceremony, pending approval by the South Korean government, which has yet to respond to a US government request to include the F-15K in the ceremony. Boeing is not planning a full flying demonstration during the show, but the US Air Force will demonstrate one of its F-15Cs.

Boeing has been trying to persuade Seoul to commit to another batch of 40 F-15Ks in line with its original requirement for 120 new fighters. But industry sources say South Korea is giving no attention to a follow-on acquisition and will not make any decision until after the initial batch of aircraft are in service. Singapore’s selection last month of the F-15T may take pressure off Seoul, which was told earlier it needed to commit to additional aircraft by the end of this year, because F-15 production is now ensured until at least 2009.

Meanwhile, Seoul has begun pondering a next-generation fighter purchase that could be given priority over a second batch of F-15Ks. The new programme is set to be launched in 2009, but industry sources warn this acquisition may also be delayed due to budget constraints caused by the current F-15K purchase, a Lockheed Martin F-16 upgrade and the proposed purchase of Korea Aerospace Industries F-50s to replace Northrop F-5s.

Lockheed plans to offer the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for the new fighter requirement and will bring a mock-up and cockpit simulator to the Seoul air show. South Korea received a Lockheed briefing on the JSF in 2003 and a more detailed briefing from the US government last year.

Industry sources say Seoul will probably not acquire new fighters until about 2010, which could work nicely for Lockheed because delivery slots for the JSF are available to foreign military sales customers from 2014.

Source: Flight International