South Korea shoots down Boeing offer
SEOUL: South Korea yesterday rejected Boeing Co’s bid to supply 60 fighter jets in the country’s largest-ever weapons purchase even though it was the sole remaining bidder, and said it would reopen the tender.
Boeing had offered its F-15 Silent Eagle, but South Korean critics have said the warplane lacks state-of-the-art stealth capabilities and cannot effectively cope with North Korea’s increasing nuclear threats.
Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said officials decided at a meeting yesterday to delay naming a winning bidder for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.7 billion) purchase, and would restart the bidding process at an early date.
He said South Korea must have better air power in line with an international trend to develop ‘‘fifth-generation’’ fighters, and said the rejection of Boeing’s bid was made in consideration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and other factors.
Ministry officials said the spokesman was referring to a warplane with cuttingedge radar-evading stealth functions which Boeing’s plane does not have.
Boeing said in a statement that it was ‘‘deeply disappointed’’ by yesterday’s decision, adding it ‘‘rigorously’’ followed the South Korean arms procurement agency’s instructions throughout the entire process.
Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co’s Eurofighter Typhoon earlier competed in the bidding process but were eliminated for exceeding Seoul’s budget cap.
The F-35 jet, which has been plagued by schedule delays and cost overruns, is widely regarded as a much more advanced and capable aircraft than its predecessors.
Japan announced in 2011 that it would buy 42 F-35 jets in a deal expected to cost more than $5 billion. The country hopes to receive its first F-35s in 2016, at a cost of about $120 million per plane. But last year it threatened to cancel the multibillion-dollar deal if prices continue to rise or delays threaten the delivery date.
In recent days, South Korean media, retired generals and weapons experts had pressed the government not to pick the F-15 Silent Eagle, arguing better stealth capabilities were needed.
‘‘Only with stealth capabilities can (warplanes) covertly infiltrate North Korea and get rid of its nuclear threats,’’ a group of 15 former air force chiefs of staff said in a recent letter addressed to President Park Geun-hye.
The rivals Koreas have hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops along a heavily armed border as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. North Korea’s air force is relatively old and ill-prepared, but has a large number of aircraft that could be a factor if a conflict were to break out.