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F-15K Fighter Jet Named 'Slam Eagle'

The F-15K has been named the 'Slam Eagle' in a ceremony marking the introduction of the state-of-the-art fighter to South Korea that took place at the 11th Fighter Wing Squadron base. Amongst the high-ranking officials were Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung and Air Force Chief of Staff General Kim Sung-il.

An advanced derivative of the F-15E, the F-15K can conduct air-to-ground, air-to-air and air-to-sea missions during the day or at night, in virtually any weather.

The long-range fighter is able to carry more than 23,000 lbs of weapons, including the Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Responses cruise missile, the satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, anti-ship Harpoon missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

It flies at a maximum speed of Mach 2.3 and also incorporates up-to-date military technologies such as a helmet-mounted cueing system and third-generation navigation and targeting systems.

The second batch of two F-15Ks was delivered on 5 December following the delivery of the first two, which participated in the Seoul International Air Show. The ROK Air Force has completed the test flight and inspection of operational requirements for the first two, and those for the second two are underway.

Boeing is scheduled to deliver the remaining 36 F-15Ks, including eight next year, by 2008 on a gradual basis under a 5-billion-dollar (5.2 trillion won) weapons procurement contract awarded in 2002.

The multi-role aircraft will be deployed in the field for operational flights starting in January 2007. The Air Force wants to introduce 40 more F-15K-level jet fighters after 2008 under the 'Defense Reform 2020' program that is centred on the modernisation of the country's weaponry, including airborne early warning aircraft systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Seoul-searching

Ronald de Roij and Rob Nispeling, KARO Aviation, made the long trek to Seoul for this year's Korean Aerospace & Defence Exhibition 2005

The fifth 'Korea Aerospace and Defence Exhibition 2005', also known as the Seoul Air Show, was held at Seoul Airport from 18 - 23 October. Ever since the first show in 1996, it has been the aim of the joint Korean defence industry, supported by the military forces, to set up a reknowned regional defence exhibit. After the lacklustre - and probably one-off - event in the Busan exhibition centre in 2003, the show returned to the grounds of Seongnam City near Seoul.

With the planned participation of two hundred companies of the aerospace and defence industries from more than twenty countries around the world, this year's event was expected to be well on the way of achieving this mark. The programme consisted of an airshow, display and exhibition and a three-day professional seminar. Lacking a specific Korea Defence Forces requirement, many international companies chose to stay away or minimalise their efforts. This was a well-noted difference with the 2001 show when Russian, US and French companies tried their best to sell their fighter as the ROKAF Next Generation Fighter (FX), lining up their state-of-the-art fighters in Seoul at the time.

Seoul mates

Upon entering the showground, we found the winner of the FX-competition, two factory fresh F-15Ks neighbouring the aircraft it is replacing, the F-4 Phantom, a technology gap spanning thirty-odd years. Talking to Boeing officials accompanying the planes it turned out that the two aircraft were technically still owned by the Boeing Company, and that they would only be transferred to the ROK Air Force at the last day of the show, thus explaining the absence of an F-15K in the flying programme.

The aircraft on display were production numbers 3 and 4, the first two examples remain in the USA for further testing and systems integration. Some of the highlights of the F-15K program include full stand-off air-to-ground weaponry and the unique capability (for an F-15) to use the AGM-84 Harpoon in the air-to-surface mode. Other changes from the F-15E include an updated AN/APG-63(V) radar and an advanced avionics suite.

A total of forty F-15Ks will be delivered until 2008, with two further deliveries this year. Next year the first squadron will convert to the F-15K, which will be the 122 'Jaguar' Squadron, currently equipped with the F-5 and based at Gwangju in south-western Korea.

Future plans for the ROKAF include introduction of the T-50 supersonic trainer, replacing F-5Fs and leased T-38s as a high-speed trainer. Missing in the static display was the T-50 Golden Eagle, with only a factory model taking part in the flight display, although a full-size mock-up was presented in the pavilion area. Although this aircraft has a fair amount of equipment installed it has never flown and only served as a jig for fitting equipment and systems.

With aerial reconnaissance being one of the topics of the seminar and a new aerial sensor platform on the ROK AF wish list, it was no surprise to see Boeing highlighting their efforts in this area by bringing in an Australian Wedge tail. In this case the second example of this interesting B-737 variant was on show with a civil registration taped over its Australian numberplate (A30-02).

The remainder of the static was filled with local aircraft and defence industry equipment including ROK Air Force KF-16, F-4E and KT-1 and air force and army helicopters. Also on display was a newcomer to Korean skies in the form of the Bo-105 helicopter - an order for twelve light helicopters for the Korean Army Aviation was placed with EADS a few years ago, with all of these now in service.

Although the further downsizing of American forces in South Korea was announced in the week of the show, there are still more than thirty thousand US Army soldiers stationed in the country and a sizeable PACAF presence. To honour the good relation with the USA, the Korean organisers reserved one side of the static display for American aircraft, represented by locally based F-16C, A-10A and P-3. US Army also brought their local inventory along and the USAF showed the B-1B, both on the ground and in the air. The two Ellsworth (TX) B-1Bs detoured from their Diego Garcia temporary deployment base.

During the public days, the 'Black Eagle Team' of ROK Air Force performed. On the trading days the flying programme consisted of a display from the factory T-50 and ROKAF KF-16 and KT-1. An Alaska-based USAF F-15C showed what the Eagle can do in the air and an overflying U-2 was followed by a B-1B display. All of this was brought in the space of half an hour, proving that the size and importance of the flying programme needs beefing up before the Seoul Air Show starts to attract serious visitor numbers from the region. A fantastic performance was put in by one of two private Su-31 aerobatic aircraft attending and waterbombing with helicopters during the public weekend turned out to be a real show-stopper for attending families.

In comparing previous shows at Seoul, the amount of attendees was down. In previous editions, most of the types flown by the ROK Air Force were present, but some types were absent this year. With the ROK Air Force not in search of a new type, no foreign contenders were present. The main part of the trade fair was about the new F-15K and possible RFP for a sensor aircraft, with a secondary goal of marketing of the KT-1 and the T-50.

Concluding, it was a show that was nice for the first-time visitor to South Korea, but compared to previous shows and other shows in the region (LIMA, Singapore) the amount of aircraft from neighbouring countries was very limited and the airshow element in need of an upgrade. The show was well organised, locally supported and marketed in magazines and at airshows world-wide, so everything is in place to expand on the platform. The next Seoul Air Show will be in 2007.

 

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