ROK Air Force F-15Ks in Formation

ROK Air Force F-15Ks in Formation

It has been a rough few months for the F-15 in Asia, losing parts midair and running off runways in Japan, or the up and down roller coaster that has been the F-15 Silent Eagle project (and back on). Now comes word that the F-15K’s unavailability rates are near double that of other ROK fighters, owing to the slow delivery and high cost of replacement parts:

F-15Ks, the latest and most expensive fighter jets that Korea has acquired, are much more likely to be grounded than the country’s aging jets due largely to difficulty in securing spare parts, according to a confidential parliamentary report.

The classified report, written in November last year by Kwon Ki-yool, chief advisor to the National Assembly Defense Committee, reveals that the grounded — not operationally ready for supply (G-NORS) rate of F-15Ks was 12.8 and 10.2 percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

F-15Ks’ unavailability was much higher compared to other fighter jets of the Air Force, including KF-16s whose G-NORS rate was only 5.7 and 5.2 percent in 2009 and 2010.

Korea has purchased 60 F-15Ks from Boeing at around $100 million per aircraft since 2002, whereas it manufactured 120 KF-16s, a variant of the F-16, at around $30 million each under license from Lockheed Martin in the 1990s.

The G-NORS rates of the McDonnell Douglas F-4Es and Northrop F-5s, most of which were introduced more than 30 years ago, were even lower.

The unavailability rate of the F-4Es was less than 2 percent in 2009 and 2010, while that of the F-5s was less than 6.5 percent during the two-year period.

An Air Force official said the G-NORS rate of the F-15Ks is much higher than other fighter jets because of a lack of parts in stock and the military’s inexperience in operating new jets.

“We have been struggling to secure spare parts for the F-15Ks,” he said. “The problem is that they are expensive to buy and their delivery time is slow upon placing an order.”

An industry insider pointed out that the high G-NORS rate is partly attributed to additional features that Korea has added to the F-15K.

“The F-15K has incorporated many improvements to the existing F-15,” he said. “But the downside of this is that those parts are often unique to Korea and thus hard to get.”

An F-15K crashed during a night training flight in June 2006 off the east coast, raising doubts over the reliability of the two-engine, multirole fighter.

Senior Air Force officials said that the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) will sign a performance based logistics (PBL) deal worth 300 billion won ($267 million) with Boeing by this week in an effort to improve the operational rate of the F-15Ks.

“We are very concerned about the low operational readiness of the F-15Ks and share the view that its G-NORS rate can be significantly lowered,” an Air Force general who has been negotiating with Boeing said.

“DAPA plans to sign a PBL with Boeing so that spare parts will be more readily available in the future.”

The PBL is an alternative logistics support solution that allows a customer to pay for performance rather than products or services.

Boeing will be the first foreign military contractor to sign a PBL with Korea.

A company official downplayed concern over the low operational readiness of the F-15Ks, saying other countries, including the United States, maintain F-15 variants at G-NORS rates of more than 25 percent.

An Air Force officer claimed that the rates for F-15Ks and KF-16s were lowered to 8.24 percent and 3.38 percent, respectively, last year after intensive maintenance efforts. (Source: Lee Tae-hoon: The Korea Times)

While these problems appear to spell doom for Boeing in their attempts to win the contract for South Korea’s FX-III fighter acquisition project with their F-15 Silent Eagle (which we assume is happening until proven otherwise), the signing of the performance based logistics contract cements a bond with the ROK that proves Boeing is willing to put their money on the line to achieve the ROK Air Force’s required “grounded — not operationally ready for supply” (G-NORS) rates.

Showing some willingness to bend for South Korea, along with their previous history in winning FX-I and FX-II will give Boeing a strong platform for winning the FX-III should they come through with both the Silent Eagle design and this new issue in resolving these G-NORS issues.

It may have been perfect timing for Boeing.

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch