All hail the God of Frustration!!!
- Apr 15, 2006
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KFX Remains Paper Jet Fighter
(Source: Jakarta Post; published June 9, 2013)
Indonesia’s dream of operating a fleet of sophisticated jet fighters it helps build will not come true anytime soon. Under the new administration, South Korea has postponed the joint project to develop KFX/IFX jet fighters.
The project was initiated on March 9, 2009, after the governments of Indonesia and South Korea signed a letter of intent. At least US$5 billion was to be spent over 10 years on this project. Indonesia was to cover only 20 percent of the cost, while the rest was to be paid by South Korea. Although only contributing 20 percent of the cost, Indonesia is committed to being involved in any single process including technology development phase (TDP), engineering and manufacturing development phase, joint production and marketing.
After three years into the TDP, engineers from the two countries produced a KFX-IFX design. According to the Indonesian Defense Ministry, the government spent at least $2.7 million in 2011 and $7.3 million in 2012.
But a House of Representatives lawmaker from Commission I overseeing defense, Tubagus Hasanuddin, presented different data, revealing that Indonesia disbursed about Rp 1.6 trillion ($164.8 million) on the project (The Jakarta Post, May 16).
The postponement came after the Defense Ministry received a letter from South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), stating that the engineering and manufacturing development phase should be indefinitely postponed as the new government of South Korea had to wait for the parliament’s consent.
Indeed, since the beginning, the KFX/IFX project has been quite problematic. Several times some members of House’s defense commission questioned the feasibility of this project. They claim the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has never discussed the KFX/IFX project with the House. Despite the House’s criticism, the joint project went ahead.
The project actually sent a clear message that the government preferred developing the KFX aircraft to buying US-made F-16 or any other sophisticated jet fighters. It cannot be denied that Indonesia needs something to be proud of now that the country is grappling with rampant corruption and horse-trading among politicians.
At least two implications may arise after the joint project was rescheduled. First, who will take responsibility for the $10 million the government has spent if the project is permanently discontinued?
Will it be the South Korea administration, Yudhoyono, the defense minister or who? Of course, the amount is not small as it could cover the purchase of 14 2A4 Leopard tanks from Germany, which costs $700,000 each.
Second is the matter of credibility. Indonesia has considered purchasing military vehicles from South Korea, such as three submarines and T-50 trainer jets. The deferral of the KFX project, of course, has impaired the credibility of South Korea as an emerging military equipment manufacturer.
Will other contracts be suspended or unilaterally canceled? What will the South Korea government do to ensure that there is no postponement or cancelation of arms sales? Or, is there any guarantee that the KFX project will remain on track after the temporary suspension?
There are at least two steps that Yudhoyono can take in response to the delay. First, the government should evaluate the KFX/IFX project documents to determine whether the postponement was anticipated before the project agreement was signed, and whether there is a clause allowing the South Korea administration to decide at will to postpone the agreement and which party should bear the responsibility if the project is permanently terminated.
Second, the President could reconsider all military purchasing plans involving South Korean products. The unilateral postponement of the jet fighter project of course has disrupted Indonesia’s bid to develop a sophisticated combat plane.
Reviewing the plan to purchase South Korean military equipment such as T-50 jets and submarines, and exercising an option to upgrade Hawk trainer jets and procure submarines from Russia would be understandable and justifiable.
In an effort to achieve a minimum essential force, the Indonesian Military is taking military capability development seriously, either through imports or the purchase of national defense industry products. But it is time for Indonesia to demonstrate dignity and send a clear message to arms producers. After all, the KFX/IFX remains a paper jet.
The writer is program director of the Ridep Institute and associate faculty member of Binus International, Bina Nusantara University, Jakarta.