On August 18th South Korea selected Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle as the sole candidate for Phase III of its Fighter eXperimental Project (F-X) over Lockheed Martin’s F-35A and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The decision has drawn vociferous criticism from defense experts who fear the selection of F-15SE may not provide the South Korean military with the sufficient Required Operational Capabilities (ROCs) to counterbalance Japan and China’s acquisition of 5th generation stealth fighters.
In hindsight, Zachary Keck of The Diplomat believes that Republic of Korea’s (ROK)preference for the F-15SE over two other competitors was “unsurprising.” After all, Boeing won the previous two fighter competitions with its F-15-K jet. In 2002 and 2008, South Korea bought a total of 61 F-15K jets from Boeing. South Korea’s predilection for the F-15SE is understandable given its 85% platform compatibility with the existing F-15Ks.
Contrary to the popular belief among many South Korean defense analysts, the ROK cannot come up with the defense budget to match its rivals. So long as that’s true, the type of stealth fighter chosen will have little or no effect on the ROK’s ability to achieve strategic and tactical air parity with its neighbors. The ROK can, however, avoid severe gaps in air power stemming from potential structural disarmament by reexamining the development of indigenous stealth fighters and UCAVs.