The government on Tuesday decided against selecting the Boeing F-15SE as the country's next fighter jet after all and start the search from scratch.
The decision came in a meeting between Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration in which DAPA recommended the F-15SE because it is the only one of three candidates within the current budget.
But a committee of experts who evaluated the F-15SE advised against the selection, saying the aircraft failed to meet the functional requirements set by the government.
It will now take another one or two years to select a new fighter jet, forcing the Air Force to rely on its aging F-4 and F-5 fighter aircraft for longer period or make do with fewer planes as the military starts to retire chunks of its existing fleet.
The other two candidates were Lockheed Martin's F-35 and EADS' Eurofighter.
The most pressing concern is that the Air Force will have to operate with fewer aircraft as the selection process drags on, since the F-4 and F-5 jets, which are 30 to 40 years old, are set to be retired soon due to safety issues.
The Air Force had wanted the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but could not oppose the selection of the F-15SE because it worried about a further delay if the process starts over.
It presently operates around 430 fighter jets and insists that this level must be maintained. They include 220 state-of-the-art F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets but also around 210 of the older F-4s and F-5s, which are to be phased out gradually by 2025.
If the selection of new jets had progressed on schedule, they would have been deployed starting in 2017, resulting in a shortfall of only 50 fighter jets, but now the new planes will not be deployed until at least 2019, causing a shortfall of more than 100 jets by that time, according to the Air Force.
The Defense Ministry pledged to speed up the fresh selection in order to minimize the impact.