Korea’s ill-starred project to develop new fighter jets with indigenous technology by 2025 faced more setbacks as it struggled with more rejections from the United States to share technologies.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said on Wednesday that a group of officials led by its vice director, Jin Yang-hyun, will visit the United States on Nov. 30 to discuss the terms of a technology transfer. The plan was announced as local media reported earlier this week that the fate of the country’s largest-ever procurement program is in jeopardy because the United States recently refused to hand over three technologies, in addition to its previous refusal to share four technologies crucial to the project.
Codenamed KF-X, the program aims to develop new multirole fighters with more advanced capabilities than the U.S.-built F-16s. The government will invest a total of 18.4 trillion won ($16.1 billion), including 8.5 trillion won for development. Through the project, 120 jets are to be developed by 2025.
In September 2014, the DAPA signed a deal with American defense company Lockheed Martin, selected to provide 40 F-35s under a separate F-X project, for technology transfer and investment in the KF-X program.
Korea initially asked for 25 technologies from the U.S. defense contractor, but the procurement office later admitted that Washington in April refused licenses to share four core technologies. National Defense Minister Han Min-koo made a direct appeal to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during their talks at the Pentagon in October but was rebuffed.
As questions arose about whether the government concealed unfavorable contract details, the DAPA repeatedly assured the public that it has no problem getting licenses for the export of the remaining 21 technologies from the United States.
A local newspaper, however, reported this week that the DAPA faced more rejections.
A senior Defense Ministry official told the Munwha Ilbo that the rejections were made earlier this month.
“Officials from Lockheed Martin visited Korea from Nov. 18 to 20 and talked with procurement officials,” he said. “During the discussion, the Americans informed of the U.S. government’s decision to withhold three technologies concerning twin engine system integration and semi-stealth function of the aircraft.”
The Korea Aerospace Industries, the main developer of the project, and the Agency for Defense Development reportedly have no ability to develop the twin engine system integration technologies. In July 2014, the Joint Chiefs of Staff selected twin engine aircraft as the platform for the KF-X program.
The DAPA issued a press release and dismissed the Munhwa Ilbo report. Admitting that the first round of talks on the transfer of 21 technologies took place with Lockheed Martin from Nov. 18, 2015, the DAPA said specifics will be decided through further consultations. “We will also cooperate with the U.S. government to speedily proceed with the technology transfer,” it said. “The United States is cooperating with us.”
Sources in the defense industry said the KF-X project may face termination due to the lack of U.S. cooperation. They said the United States is reluctant to support Korea’s program because the fighters will be too advanced.
BY SER MYO-JA, JEONG YONG-SU [firstname.lastname@example.org]
US refusal to share four technologies crucial to the project