Boeing says it is still very much in the running for Korea’s multibillion-dollar fighter tender, despite opposition from the military.
The firm looked to be in pole position to secure a massive order of F-15 Silent Eagle fighter jets, but Seoul pulled the plug and restarted the tender process after former military top brass and ruling party lawmakers criticised the plane for lacking stealth capabilities.
But Dennis Muilenburg, who heads Boeing's defense unit, claims the firm are far from out of the picture.
“What they decided to do was to delay and take another look, so we're still very much engaged there with the F-15. That competition has been delayed and restructured but it's not over," he said.
Nonetheless, Lockheed Martin's F-35A, previously considered too expensive, is now seen in South Korea as a likely candidate after the defence ministry singled out a fifth-generation fighter as the preferred option.
South Korea's decision to reopen bidding for the fighter-jet contract signals a wider problem for Boeing – that revenue from the F-15, its most profitable but aging military aircraft, is winding down – but Muilenburg said the F-15 line remained very strong.
"We have 84 new builds that we're building for Saudi Arabia, so that line is full through 2018, 2019, time frame. We have F-15 users around the world. We're continuing to upgrade, modify the jets for the US Air Force as well," he said, "So that line has a lot of life and a lot of opportunity ahead of it yet."
Canada also is trying to decide whether to go for Lockheed's F-35 or one of four competitors, including Boeing's F-18 Super Horne.
In contrast to South Korea, Canada had at first expressed a preference for the Lockheed Martin plane because of its advanced capabilities, but after a furore over its cost and the fact that the government had not tendered for it, Canada has reached out to Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers.
In a speech to an aerospace and defence conference in Ottawa, Muilenburg took issue with characterizing the F-35 as a next-generation plane, saying Boeing is constantly adding new technology, "not just every generation."
He also said governments should demand certainty in cost and scheduling, noting that 600 F-18s had been delivered around the world, each on cost and on time or ahead of schedule. He said a Super Hornet would cost half as much per flight hour as an F-35.
Lockheed Martin officials were not immediately available to comment.