Fifteen former Air Force chiefs have written to President Park Geun-hye calling on her to procure stealth bombers. They said Korea should "give top priority to stealth functions" for the next-generation F-X fighter procurement project, regardless of the budget.
A total amount of W8.3 trillion (US$1=W1,085) has been earmarked for the project to buy 60 fighter jets.
All of the retired Air Force chiefs who are still alive signed the letter, except for six who are ill or overseas.
"Originally, the Air Force gave priority to the capabilities of fighter jets in order to respond to threats from North Korea or potential threats from neighboring countries," they said in the letter sent on Aug. 29. "But if the project is implemented under the current parameters," which put the priority on price, "the Air Force would have to select the F-15SE, which has poorer stealth function."
There are three candidates, but the other two -- the Lockheed Martin F-35A and EADS Eurofighter -- have more or less been knocked off the list because they are too expensive.
The former Air Force chiefs urged Park not to assess the models based on their bid prices alone but carry out a comprehensive evaluation of all models.
But they do not want the project halted and started from scratch, since that would leave a vacuum in the country's defenses. Instead, they urged Park to secure additional funds.
But an official with the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said that would be against the rules. "Even if the president decides to allocate a bigger budget, the project would have to start all over again" to ensure transparency, he said.