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Reports: S. Korea to begin evaluating fighter bids

The Republic of Korea has three bids in hand for its planned batch of 60 advanced fighter jets, according to reports Thursday, and it's going to begin deciding which one to buy next week.

The competitors are old and familiar friends to DoDBuzz readers: Boeing's F-15SE Silent Eagle; Eurofighter's Typhoon; and Lockheed's F-35 Lightning II.

Here's what's next, per the Korea Times:

"We will evaluate each bid in accordance with due process," the [Defense Acquisition Program Administration] said in a statement. "We will ensure fair competition and, with thorough evaluation and proper negotiations, we will select the aircraft that we believe most benefits our national interest."

The DAPA said a team of 15 expert evaluators will review the bids in nearly 300 categories, covering such areas as each fighter jet's operational capabilities, from July 9 to 14. Then, starting in late July, a team of 45 Air Force evaluators will conduct flight tests on more than 500 categories, including the fighters' interoperability and their compatibility with South Korean armed forces.

The DAPA said last month some technical requirements will be tested on simulators because core parts of all three jets are still under development.

If all goes as planned, South Korea could pick its new fighter this winter, although the precise target date for a decision seems to have become a little fuzzy.

How to handicap this contest? The ROK's air force already flies a few classic American-made aircraft, including F-15K Slam Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons, so its leaders may follow in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and opt for advanced new Eagles because that's what they know. Plus Boeing is dreaming up all kinds of refinements and enhancements for its new generations of F-15s, from internal weapons carriage to lower visibility, and that may be a tempting pitch.

Then there's the F-35. If, as it appears, it's stealthier than the Silent Eagle -- though we normies might probably never learn by how much -- it could change the game on the Korean peninsula. It could not only give the South more of an edge against its arch nemesis to the North, it would give the ROK air force a common airframe with its American, Japanese and Australian allies. The program's high-profile problems notwithstanding, that interoperability argument might carry a lot of weight.

As for the Typhoon, that seems to have the longest shot here, but you never know. The Euro-consortium is doubtless willing to make Seoul a heckuva deal, and India's decision to buy France's Dassault Rafale shows anything is possible. Eurofighter also could argue its jet is the most proven of this trio, given that the Silent Eagle and the F-35 both are untested in the real world.

However this competition breaks down, all three vendors have one thing in common: They really, really want to book this deal. Boeing wants to keep its older-model jets in the game for as long as it can, and for someone to actually buy the F-15SE instead of it just being a concept. Each new member of Club F-35 makes Lockheed that much more secure in its ability to push the world's largest defense program through its briar patch. And the Eurofighter consortium needs new customers to keep the Typhoon alive.

As we expect to hear next week at the Farnborough International Airshow, the world's biggest aerospace defense firms are counting on Asia and the Middle East to get them through the austere budgets projected for Europe and North America. South Korea's F-X competition is a case in point.

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