South Korea could soon finalise a deal for 20 more Boeing F-15Ks, with the US manufacturer reportedly offering an additional aircraft for free to replace a fighter that crashed last year.

Seoul opened a competition for a further 20 fighters last year, following its earlier order for 40 F-15Ks, but Boeing was the only company to respond. A second attempt to elicit a competition failed after the Eurofighter consortium decided against offering its Typhoon.

Price negotiations began last year, and although some observers thought South Korea was at a disadvantage because of the lack of competition, Boeing is keen to secure a fresh order to restore confidence in the F-15 programme following the type's recent grounding and inspection by the US Air Force. Although last year's F-15K crash was attributed to pilot error, one Seoul-based source says Boeing will be keen to de-link the incident from its recent problems in the USA, which affect some early-model F-15s.

 south korean F-15K
© Boeing

"There has been some talk in Seoul about the viability of the F-15s, but Boeing has assured the government that the fighters are safe," the source adds. "Offering an additional F-15 could be a sign of goodwill."

Negotiations are expected to conclude in late January, with deliveries likely to begin around 2010. South Korea has so far taken delivery of 30 F-15Ks from its launch order, with the rest likely to follow by year-end.

Meanwhile, Seoul is expected to launch another competition in about two years' time for a next-generation fighter to be delivered from 2014, with interest focused on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or F-22. But delays to the former project and the US government's refusal to export the Raptor could scupper the plan, and perhaps prompt South Korea to seek a further batch of 20 F-15s until either does become available.