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2015-11-26 17:24
By Jun Ji-hye

It seems almost impossible for Korea to develop its indigenous fighter jets by the designated year of 2025 due to growing uncertainties over technology transfer from the United States.

Nobody among military and government officials has taken responsibility for the botched deal with Lockheed Martin. It seems highly likely Korea will fail to receive related technologies from the U.S. firm.

The Korean arms procurement agency’s repeated lies about contract terms with Lockheed have made things worse, prompting calls for a full probe into the project. Some politicians are even demanding cancellation of the Lockheed deal, asking the government to start the fighter jet program from square one.

Despite all the mess, there have been no explanations from President Park Geun-hye, where the buck stops.

The U.S. government first refused in April to allow Lockheed Martin, the F-35 manufacturer, to hand over four core technologies, including the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, to Korea for security reasons. The 8.5 trillion won KF-X project is aimed at developing fighter jets by 2025 to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s.

And on Wednesday, Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) Minister Chang Myoung-jin indicated at a session of the National Assembly Defense Committee that it is uncertain whether the U.S. will transfer another 21 technologies to Korea.

Critics and some lawmakers say if Korea fails to receive the technologies from the U.S., the feasibility of the KF-X project can hardly be guaranteed. And the buck stops with Park.

They say a full-fledged audit of the decision-making process to buy 40 F-35s last year and an offset deal under which the company would hand over 25 technologies of the stealth fighter to Korea is inevitable.

Calls are also growing for the purchase to be canceled, like Canada did last month, if Lockheed Martin does not demonstrate a cooperative attitude in technology transfer, unlike its promise last year when it won the deal to sell the fighter jets to Korea. Critics say purchasing European fighter jets after canceling the F-35s could be a “Plan B” if the technology is not handed over as promised.  

“Park, as the commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces, should apologize to the people about the project being in jeopardy, and establish who should take responsibility for the failure to receive technologies from the U.S.,” said Rep. Park Soo-hyun of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

President Park has kept silent since early October when she expressed support for the project. But the situation has changed a lot.  

At the time, DAPA surely said it can receive 21 technologies from Lockheed Martin, and is capable of domestically developing the four core technologies that the U.S. government refused to allow the defense giant to hand over to Korea.

Namely, Park expressed her support for the project under the condition that the nation receives the 21 technologies, which now appears unlikely.  

Having evaded their responsibility, military and government officials are only repeating that the nation can domestically develop the high-tech fighter jet by 2025 without suggesting clear technical evidence.

National Security Office (NSO) chief Kim Kwan-jin, who played a key role in selecting Lockheed Martin F-35s over Boeing’s F15-SEs as a defense minister in March last year, does not seem to be willing to lift a finger now. He only said he belatedly received a report about the difficulty in acquiring the U.S. technologies.

DAPA Minister Chang, who took the post in November last year, also has appeared to back out, apparently bearing in mind most of the decision-making processes were done under his predecessor’s leadership.  

Rep. Chung Doo-un of the ruling Saenuri Party said, “Not many of those decision-makers are willing to take responsibility as they, including President Park, will not remain in their positions in 2025.”


Follow Jun Ji-hye on Twitter @TheKopJihye


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