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Korea to use simulators to select new fighter jets

Key instruments and performances of the three fighter jets competing for Korea’s FX-III fighter jet procurement program will be tested using simulators, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said Wednesday.

According to DAPA, all three models have some aspects that are still under development, limiting tests using the actual aircraft.

The revelation comes less than a week since the DAPA came under fire over plans to test the F-35 using simulators due to incomplete development.

The three fighter jets competing for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.1 billion) contract are the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle, Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Eurofighter. This is the largest single defense acquisition program Korea has undertaken.

The competing manufacturers are required to submit their proposals by June 18. The Korean authorities will then conduct tests and negotiations before selecting the model in October.

“Simulators are designed with the same software, data and equipment used in the actual aircraft, so that their functions and performance simulations are close to those of the aircraft,” DAPA officials said.

The DAPA, however, plans to deduct scores for functions tested using simulators from the final score that will decide which model is chosen for the Korean Air Force.

The categories that will be tested using simulators are internal weapons bay, radar cross-section reduction and protection mechanisms for the F-15.

For the Eurofighter the DAPA plans to test the jet’s Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, protection mechanisms, air-to-air and air-to-surface attack capabilities.

The F-35’s air-to-air and air-to-surface attack capabilities, and external weapons carriage capacity will be tested using simulators. The authorities will also conduct flight tests for the F-35 using simulators.

“As the F-35 Block III is a single cockpit aircraft currently under development, and in light of difficulties ensuring the safety of our pilots, simulator testing is unavoidable,” the DAPA said.

Regarding criticism that the Korean government is giving the F-35 an unfair advantage, DAPA officials said that simulated flight testing was clearly stated in the request for proposals distributed in January.

Regarding criticism that the government is rushing the program along despite at least one competing aircraft still being in the development stage, DAPA officials said that delaying the program until all development is complete will leave a critical gap in Korea’s defenses.

The DAPA, however, indicated that the deadline in October could be open to some flexibility.

“We are carrying out a national project, and such things are not conducted without plans. The deadline is our target, but does not mean that the selection must be made this year,” a DAPA official said.

“Not having a target date is detrimental in the negotiations. The reason we set a target date is to maximize our bargaining power.”

He added that if there are any delays in the schedule, the decision will be made by a “higher decision-making body.”

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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