Cancel deal with Lockheed Martin to purchase F-35 stealth fighters, if necessary and Restart KF-X project from square one – Korea

Posted : 2015-12-07 16:12

Updated : 2015-12-07 19:56

Restart KF-X project from square one

 An F-35 stealth fighter flies over the area of Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on Oct. 10, 2014. Korea signed a deal to purchase 40 F-35s in September last year but is now facing calls from some politicians and critics to cancel the deal due to uncertainties over the technology transfer from Washington that is causing a serious setback to Seoul’s own fighter jet development project. / Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The government is facing growing calls to restart its problematic fighter jet development program from square one ― and cancel a deal with Lockheed Martin to purchase F-35 stealth fighters, if necessary.By Jun Ji-hye

Some politicians and critics say it seems almost impossible for the nation to develop its own fighter jet by the designated year of 2025 due to growing uncertainties over technology transfers from Washington.

“It is not an easy decision to cancel the F-35 deal, but the idea is well worth considering if it is hard for Korea to acquire the U.S. technology through the deal,” said Rep. Kim Kwang-jin of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) to The Korea Times.

Kim noted that the government appeared to have already considered cancelation, citing that the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has estimated expenses that the nation must pay as a cancellation charge if the F-35 deal is canceled.

During a session of the National Assembly Defense Committee on Nov. 25, a DAPA official told lawmakers that the cost of cancelation would be an estimated $1.2 billion.

“It would take about two years to calculate the exact amount,” the official said. “There is a possibility that the amount could go down from the estimate after a detailed examination.”

The state-run procurement agency noted that it has also considered reducing the number of F-35s to be purchased from 40 to 20.

“In this case, the total cost is expected to go down by one third,” said the official.

The transfer of 25 technologies was included in an offset deal with Lockheed Martin in return for Korea’s purchase of 40 F-35s at 7.3 trillion won ($6.33 billion), signed in September last year, as the Air Force’s next-generation fighter.

But what has happened this year indicates the unlikelihood of the transfer of some important technologies.

In April, the U.S. government refused to allow Lockheed to hand over four core technologies, including its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, to Korea for security reasons.

Speculation is now being raised that Washington is negative about transferring some others among the remaining 21 technologies to Korea. Officials from DAPA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been conducting negotiations with the U.S. defense giant company and the U.S. State Department.

Rep. Chung Doo-un of the ruling Saenuri Party, who chairs the National Assembly Defense Committee, claimed that the nation is experiencing difficulties in acquiring the U.S. technologies as Washington does not want Korea to be capable of developing its own fighter jets.

The lawmaker said Washington is mindful that Seoul might become a potential future competitor of Washington in the fighter jet export market.

“One of the reasons why the KF-X project is facing difficulties is that the U.S. is not too happy about Korea developing its own fighter jets,” he said. “The U.S. is concerned about the possible decline of its fighter jet exports, which would also reduce the level of dependence of its allies on Washington.”

Some defense experts note that Indonesia’s participation in the KF-X project also complicates the technology transfer from Washington. The U.S. shares few technologies with the Southeast Asian country because of its close defense ties with Russia.

They say Jakarta is the no. 1 importer of Russian weapons, and Washington is concerned about a possible leakage of the core technologies in high-tech fighter jets.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), KF-X’s preferred bidder, signed tentative deals at the end of last month, under which Indonesia will pay 20 percent of the costs and participate in the design process and component production, as well as acquiring one prototype and technology data afterward.

Critics now question why Korea should maintain the contract with the U.S. side and risk its possible refusal to transfer core parts of the F-35 technology, which would be a serious setback to the nation’s 8.5 trillion won KF-X project.

The program is aimed at building fighter jets to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s. If any setbacks occur to the program, it could lead to an airpower vacuum in the mid-2020s.

Rep. Kim of the NPAD said the government intended to receive technologies worth about 2 trillion won through the offset deal in the 7.3 trillion won contract to purchase 40 F-35 stealth fighters. “If the transfer of technologies is not realized, the government should consider a variety of options to make up for the loss, including changing the model of the nation’s next-generation fighters after canceling the F-35s,” the lawmaker said.

Those who call for cancelation of the nation’s purchase of F-35s cite Canada’s example.

In October, Canada’s new Liberal Party government announced its decision to cancel the country’s planned 65-plane purchase, becoming the first partner among nine countries to withdraw from the Pentagon’s F-35 joint strike fighter program.

Canada’s move to drop the F-35s came as then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party was accused in 2012 of having lied about the true cost of operating the stealth fighters.

According to DefenseNews, an American military news website, many Canadian companies have spent years building components for the new plane and stand to lose as much as $8.3 billion in work over the life of the jet.

But Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister elected in the Oct. 19 election, argued that an open competition for Canada’s fighter jet replacement would more than make up for the loss of the F-35 business, according to DefenseNews.

Trudeau vowed to move quickly on replacing Ottawa’s aging CF-18s with another plane through a competition after pulling out of the F-35 program.

Kim Jong-dae, who is in charge of defense reform planning in the Justice Party, said, “Countries such as Canada, Turkey, the Netherlands and Norway have dropped their F-35 purchase deals or moved to reduce the number of stealth fighters to be purchased.”

Kim added that this is leading to an increase in the price of the jets.

Park Seok-jin, an activist dedicated to improving the nation’s military, argued that there was a problem from the beginning in the government’s process to select F-35s over Boeing’s F15-SEs, citing the Defense Acquisition Program Executive Committee’s decision to go with Lockheed after rejecting the F-15SEs, first recommended by DAPA, in September 2013.

At the time, DAPA officials noted that the decision to reject the F-15SE was unexpected as Boeing was more positive in handing over core technologies.

“The purchase of F-35s and the nation’s KF-X project was a case of fraud,” he said in his recent column. “I urged the government to reexamine them from square one.”

For his part, DAPA spokesman Col. Kim Si-cheol said there is nothing he can confirm as of now regarding the ongoing negotiation with the U.S. side due to the sensitivity of the government-to-government issue.

“There have been some regrettable issues regarding the KF-X project including the delayed negotiation with Lockheed Martin,” he said. “We are continuing to seek the transfer of technologies we want.”

The U.S. State Department said last week that it would provide maximum support for Korea’s fighter jet development project, dismissing speculation that the department was negative about approving the transfer of some technologies.

“The United States continues to support the Republic of Korea’s defense programs and priorities through the transfer of many of our most sensitive defense technologies,” said State Department spokeswoman Katina Adams.

“We seek to support the KF-X indigenous fighter program to the maximum extent possible,” she said. “The U.S. government is in discussions with Lockheed Martin to address ROK areas of concern. We will continue to work closely with Lockheed Martin throughout this process to ensure continued support to the KF-X program.”

jjh@koreatimes.co.kr,

Original post koreatimes 

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