(LEAD) EADS offers US$2 bln investment on Korean fighter jet project
The European Aerospace Defense and Space Company (EADS) on Thursday offered to invest US$2 billion in South Korea's long-delayed fighter jet development project if it wins Seoul's jet procurement deal.
The multinational defense firm made the offer as its Eurofighter Tranche 3 has been competing with Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet and Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.3 billion) contract to replace the South Korean Air Force's aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s.
The EADS also promised to build a maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facility and an aerospace software center as well as provide marketing support for Korean-made combat aircraft.
"If Eurofighter's deal is realized, it is expected to boost South Korea's aerospace industry," the EADS said in a statement.
First launched in 2002 to build F-16 class fighter jets, Seoul's ambitious plan to develop fighter jets in the next decade has been delayed as local think tanks and experts question the feasibility of the multi-billion dollar project as well as the technical aspects to domestically produce aircrafts and meet overseas demand.
The EADS, which seeks to have competitive edge over its American competitors, earlier proposed to manufacture 53 out of 60 planes in local factories if it wins the multi-billion dollar deal in its recent marketing efforts.
The European company's aggressive marketing efforts come at a time when many have called on the Park Geun-hye administration to promptly make a decision to either go ahead with the large-scale airplane development project or put on the brakes if it is deemed economically unsustainable.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) remained cautious over the EADS's investment plan as it is preparing to make a final decision with a goal of picking a contractor within June.
"The EADS made the investment offer on the condition that it wins the procurement deal," a DAPA official said, asking for anonymity. "The government has not yet confirmed whether it would go ahead with the fighter jet development project."
On Thursday, DAPA said it has completed price negotiations and will begin the bidding process in June.
"The price negotiations have been completed and we don't plan to have another round of negotiations," DAPA spokesman Baek Yoon-hyeong said in a briefing. "We plan to conduct the auction within June."
According to DAPA officials, the acquisition agency has recently decided to postpone the proposed first delivery of fighter jets from December 2016 to August 2017, in consideration of the delayed selection process.
The agency had initially planned to announce a contractor last October under the former administration of President Lee Myung-bak, but it was postponed over calls by politicians to wait until the next government took office.
Source: By Kim Eun-jung - SEOUL, Yonhap News - 23 May 2013
Photo: The South Korean Air Force Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle Fighter Aircraft (Photo by Boeing)