Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Snubbing the Eagle; Our View; in South Korean Jet Decision, a Threat to St. Louis Economy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Snubbing the Eagle; Our View; in South Korean Jet Decision, a Threat to St. Louis Economy

Article excerpt

On a concrete pad outside the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Maryland sits the only X-32B jet fighter that ever flew. It symbolizes a profound shift in St. Louis' economic fortunes.

The X-32 was the Boeing Co.'s entry in the Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter sweepstakes. The prototype the X stands for experimental was built at the Boeing Co. plant in north St. Louis County. The X-32 was at once sleek and ungainly; its swooping surfaces made it stealthy, but its rounded belly made it look about six months pregnant.

Appearances counted, probably too much. Though the X-32 was rated ahead of Lockheed Martin's X-35 on many nondesign issues, the X-35 just flat looked cooler. And so it was that on Oct. 28, 2001, Lockheed won the biggest military contract in history.

At that moment, the clock started ticking on the aircraft manufacturing sector of the St. Louis economy. The JSF contract, for up to 3,002 planes for three branches of the military, could have provided solid jobs with great benefits for 5,000 workers over two generations. Without it, Boeing-St. Louis was left to scrounge orders for two earlier-generation aircraft, the F-15 Eagle and the F/ A-18 Super Hornet. The worry was that eventually, the clock would run out.

On Tuesday, eventually got a little closer.

The Republic of South Korea decided Tuesday to put off a decision to buy 60 F-15SEs, a stealthier "Silent Eagle" variant of an aircraft that first saw service in 1976. Since delivering its last F- 15 to the U.S. Air Force, Boeing has kept the St. Louis assembly line open with orders from Saudi Arabia, Singapore and an earlier order from South Korea.

The company thought it had the second 60-plane order from the Koreans locked up; it had beat the $7.7 billion price on both the F- 35 from Lockheed and a European consortium's Typhoon fighter. But Lockheed waged an all-out public relations war in South Korea, pointing out that its planes were stealthy fifth-generation aircraft, hinting that the country wouldn't want to go to war with North Korea in second-rate planes. …

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