South Korea to Purchase 40 U.S. Fighter Jets

After a drawn-out and fiercely contested competition, South Korea announced April 19 that it would purchase U.S.-made combat jets instead of French fighters in an estimated $4.4 billion deal for 40 planes.

Pending finalization of a contract, the U.S. fighters are scheduled for delivery to South Korea between 2005 and 2008. A spokesperson for Boeing, which builds the F-15K multirole fighter chosen by South Korea, said that June is the target for concluding the contract.

Seoul’s selection of the F-15K came as little surprise after the South Korean government declared March 27 that its final decision between Boeing’s combat aircraft and Dassault Aviation’s Rafale would take into account political and military ties. The United States is considered to be South Korea’s closest ally.

The U.S. and French fighters ranked virtually even in South Korea’s evaluation of several technical and pricing factors, including each aircraft’s life-cycle costs and operational capabilities.

Following the March announcement, Dassault Aviation filed a lawsuit in South Korea to block a final decision by Seoul, alleging an unfair selection process. In an April 19 statement, the French company said it recognized South Korea’s choice as being a matter of national sovereignty, but it was reserving its right to legal action.

The South Korean press heavily criticized U.S. politicians during the fighter competition for what was perceived as unduly pressuring South Korea to select the F-15K. For its part, Boeing, which builds the F-15 fighter in St. Louis, called the competition “transparent and fair.”

The deal breathes new life into Boeing’s F-15 production line, which looked to close in 2004 when it finished construction of 10 F-15E fighters for the U.S. Air Force. Without the 2001 Air Force contract, the F-15 line “would have closed a year or two ago—eliminating the chance for the Korean sale,” explained Senator Christopher Bond’s (R-MO) office in an April 19 press release.

South Korea joins Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia as F-15 buyers.