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"South Korea’s KF-X Set For Slow Progress In 2016"
Sep 24, 2015
Sep 24, 2015
BEIJING — South Korea’s KF-X indigenous fighter program is likely to move slowly in 2016, with the finance ministry proposing funding that looks inadequate for beginning full-scale development.
The program also runs the risk that 20% partner Indonesia will pull out of the development, which is supposed to be led by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).
Further, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), having struggled to get critical U.S. technology for KF-X, now concedes that it will have to approach suppliers in Europe or elsewhere.
The defense ministry proposed that parliament allocate 160 billion won ($133 million) for KF-X development in 2016, a figure that seemed barely adequate for even the first year of full-scale development. The finance ministry, in charge of the government’s final proposal to the parliament, has cut the request to just 67 billion won.
The reason for not seeking more money may be that the defense ministry has not yet signed a contract with KAI, despite choosing the company in March as the preferred prime contractor.
Parliament must decide by the end of the year how much it will allocate for 2016. It tends not to exceed finance ministry requests but could do so.
The finance ministry last year gave general approval for spending 8.8 trillion won on fully developing the KF-X but, again, parliament has the final say in year-to-year allocations.
Indonesia has been paying 20% of the cost of preliminary KF-X development, also assigning engineers to the design office run by the defense ministry’s Agency for Defense Development, the chief proponent of building the fighter. South Korean officials are not confident that Indonesia will stick with the program, however. Indonesia, with a budget heavily dependent on commodity exports in a weak market, has seen its currency drop about 18% over the past year.
A third problem, though one that was quite predictable, is that the U.S. will not supply technology that South Korea has wanted for KF-X, even though DAPA hoped that the selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning for the separate F-X Phase 3 program would secure the know-how.
DAPA says the U.S. has refused to provide technology for a radar with an active electronically scanned array and is also withholding the know-how for infrared search and tracking. The U.S. would supply the relevant equipment but not the engineering information needed for South Korea to be able to control its integration. Dissatisfied, DAPA will instead look abroad for such systems. South Korea wants to develop indigenous sensors for later versions of the KF-X.
For two other technologies that the U.S. will not share — electronic warfare and the integration of a targeting pod — DAPA will directly seek domestic development.
Industry sources have said for years that the U.S. would not share such sensitive technologies for KF-X.
DAPA has come under severe criticism in the South Korean press for suggesting that it would ultimately be able to persuade Washington to agree even though it is now obvious that it could not.
Lockheed Martin is expected to provide less sensitive technologies, however.