The government has decided not to choose the Boeing F-15SE as its next-generation fighter jet and opted instead to start the selection process from scratch. Boeing competed with Lockheed Martin's F-35 and EADS' Eurofighter and was the only manufacturer to submit a price that was within the government's budget of W8.3 trillion (US$1=W1,073).
But the jet was dropped at the last minute amid criticism that the aircraft lacks stealth capabilities. If the government spends at least another year choosing another fighter jet, the Air Force will end up with a shortage of more than 100 aircraft in 2019 because the country's aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighter jets, which have been in service for 30 to 40 years, will be retired.
Fighter jets would be crucial in taking out North Korean long-range artillery and nuclear and missile facilities in an emergency, and a shortage poses serious security problems.
There can be little doubt that bureaucratic incompetence is to blame. The aim of the F-X acquisition program was to buy 60 state-of-the-art fighter jets. The Air Force naturally requested a stealth fighter, and the Lockheed Martin F-35 was the only aircraft that fit the requirement.
But the Defense Acquisition Program Administration wanted to put the project out to tender to lower the purchase price, and eased the stealth requirements to let more conventional fighter aircraft join the race. The ploy backfired. Lockheed Martin is apparently not allowed to lower the F-35's price tag by itself, and when DAPA realized this, it scurried to secure a bigger budget, but by then it was too late.
Although stealth fighters are not the answer to all problems, just the fact that South Korea has them would be a strong deterrent for potential North Korean aggression. Japan and China plan to get their hands on stealth fighters soon, so it would be difficult for DAPA and the government to convince the public to spend so much tax money to buy anything else.
The government must speed up the new selection process, and the Air Force will have to try and minimize the shortage of fighter jets by extending the life spans of the F-4s and F-5s.