[EDITORIALS]Suspicion lingers over defenseThe Board of Audit and Inspection has announced that about 130 billion won ($112 million) was wasted in the development and production of the T-50 training plane, and has requested punishment for nine people involved. The board concluded that payments to Lockheed Martin to obtain the rights to produce parts of the plane were inappropriately included in the Ministry of National Defense budget. For the ministry to get involved in dealings between Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin, a subcontractor, was inappropriate.
Nevertheless, the defense ministry argues that producing the T-50’s main wings in Korea would have saved a great deal in production costs, and that that was the main reason for allowing the contract change. It added that the board hadn’t considered the special circumstances surrounding defense contracts.
The fact that so much fuss has been created about the T-50 project, which, at an estimated 4.3 trillion won, is one of the major national projects. is regrettable. Since the board has filed charges, the prosecution should thoroughly investigate, leaving no stone unturned. In particular, it must thoroughly investigate the board’s finding that the ministry’s “Report on the Cost-cut Effect” was fake. The focus of the investigation should be on the report by KAI given to the defense ministry, and the contract between KAI and Lockheed Martin. If the board’s announcement is true, this case will only add insult to injury for a defense ministry that has been soaked in scandal.
Controversies over “cost-cut” effects have surrounded large-scale military capability enhancement projects in the past. For the purchase of major parts, the ministry sometimes selected domestic defense companies in place of overseas manufacturers, and thus created unnecessary noise. Each time, cost cutting was cited by the defense ministry, and each time, a collusion between army officials and domestic defense companies was rumored. The defense ministry must fix this problem first. Instead of arguing blindly for the ineviability of selecting domestic defense companies, it should come up with a transparent procedure for conducting those projects. It’s the only way to get rid of the suspicion surrounding them.