June 26, 2010: After 41 years, South Korea is retiring the last of its 222 F-4D Phantom fighter-bombers. They (and F-5 fighters) have been replaced, over the last 15 years, by 40 F-15K fighter-bombers and 180 F-16s. The F-4 was a 28 ton, two seat, fighter bomber designed in the 1950s, and about 5,200 were built, mostly in the 1960s and 70s. About ten percent of them are still in service.
Replacing the F-4 as a fighter-bomber is the F-15K, which is a customized version of the 36 ton U.S. F-15E (a two seat fighter bomber version of the single seat, 31 ton F-15C fighter). Already in service for twenty years, the F-15E can carry up to 11 tons of bombs and missiles (compared to 8 tons on the F-4), along with a targeting pod and an internal 20mm cannon. It's an all weather aircraft that can fly one-way up to 3,900 kilometers. It uses in-flight refueling to hit targets anywhere on the planet. Smart bombs made the F-15 particularly efficient. The backseater handles the electronics and bombing. The F-15E remains a potent air-superiority fighter, making it an exceptional combat aircraft. This success prompted Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Singapore to buy it, paying about $100 million per aircraft. In the U.S. Air Force, the F-15E is one of the most popular aircraft for combat pilots to fly, even more so than the new F-22.