As the financial crisis puts a squeeze on defense budgets across the world, developing a new fighter jet is becoming an increasingly risky business.
Observers said that this year’s Farnborough International Airshow was much quieter than usual with less attention paid to the declining defense industry compared to the commercial side.
Many participants at the airshow near London from July 9 to 15 shared this view, expressing doubts on whether Lockheed Martin’s $396 billion F-35 program or Boeing’s plan to develop the F-15 Silent Eagle (SE) will be successful.
“The F-35 incorporates the latest avionics technology and stealth design features but it remains to be seen whether it was worth investing astronomical sums of money in it,” a reporter from a European defense magazine said.
“Boeing’s F-15 SE still remains a paper airplane requiring a great deal of investment possibly from Korea, the only country that has expressed an interest in the purchase of the conceptual aircraft.”
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and its U.S. defense rival’s Boeing F-15 SE have locked horns with the Eurofighter Typhoon from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) in Korea, which is planning to purchase 60 advanced fighter jets hoping to spend $7.9 billion or less.
EADS officials at the biennial international aerospace exhibition acknowledged that their company, a consortium of four-European firms, has little chance of defeating the two U.S. defense giants in Korea due largely to political and other considerations.
However, they claimed that EADS wants Korea to be its new partner and realize its long-cherished dream of developing and exporting the world’s most affordable twin- engine combat aircraft.
“The Eurofighter consortium has the willpower to share the work with other partners. This is one very important thing that differentiates it from other competitors,” Berndt Wunsche, head of EADS’s combat air systems, said in an interview with The Korea Times.
Korea is hoping to develop a $55 million combat aircraft with limited stealth capabilities and a locally developed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system by 2020.
Wunsche noted that all four of the European partners have reached an agreement not only to share a significant portion of the work with Korea but also to transfer the necessary technology for its indigenous jet program.
“We are used to sharing not only work, but also knowledge,” he said. “We welcome Korea as our new partner.”
The senior EADS official added that if Korea opts to buy fighters from EADS, his company will provide Korea the final assembly line for the Eurofighter Typhoon as well as necessary tooling and other resources.
None of the other competitors has thus far offered such an extensive technology transfer, not to mention construction of the final assembly line as part of their proposals for Korea’s fighter jet procurement program.
Wunsche also said that his company is open to negotiations with the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration over giving as much as a quarter of the consortium’s work, the production of about 15 aircraft per year, to Korea.
July 16, 2012
The Korea Times: | EADS Welcomes Korea as Partner