Military’s procurements come under microscope

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Military’s procurements come under microscope

Lawmakers labeled the government’s military procurement systems irresponsible and ineffective yesterday and charged that a lot of taxpayers’ money has gone down the drain.

Rep. Ahn Gyu-back of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, a member of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee, said yesterday the Park Geun-hye administration signed a deal to purchase U.S.-built F-35As even though it knew about defects in the aircraft’s engines.

“Data from the Defense Acquisition Program Administration showed that the government received the results of an investigation into engine fires in the F-35As on Sept. 13, but went ahead and signed the deal,” Ahn said in a press release.

An F-35A fighter jet caught fire when it attempted to take off from a U.S. Air Force base in Florida. The pilot successfully shut down the engine and landed safely. The fire was extinguished by ground crew.

The aircraft are built by American defense contractor Lockheed Martin and its Pratt & Whitney unit produced the engines. An investigation by the U.S. government later concluded that the fire was caused by excessive rubbing of engine fan blades.

The incident prompted the Pentagon to ground its most expensive weapons program for weeks. Concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the $400 billion program, the Pentagon’s biggest, have been raised since then.

According to Ahn, the Korean Air Force, which decided to purchase F-35As, requested that the engines be redesigned. “The Defense Acquisition Program Administration signed the [official] contract to purchase the jets on Sept. 30, only after it received a letter from the United States saying it would solve the problems,” Ahn said.

Eleven days after the United States sent its report, the military approved the plan to purchase the 40 stealth fighter jets from Lockheed Martin for about 4.8 trillion won ($4.53 billion) on Sept. 24.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said yesterday that in cooperation with the Air Force, it conducted multiple rounds of negotiations and high-level talks to address the engine issue for the F-35As, and confirmed that design changes of some components are enough to solve the problem without completely redesigning the engine.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration faced more criticism for wasting tax money by hiring arms dealers too often, another lawmaker said.

According to Rep. Song Young-keun of the Saenuri Party, the procurement agency purchased 5.57 trillion won worth of arms from overseas manufacturers over a recent five-year period.

Among them, 46.3 percent of the purchases were made through arms dealers, Song said. Citing reports from the Board of Audit and Inspection, Song said the Defense Acquisition Program Administration paid 142.8 billion won to dealers for those contracts.

“The Defense Acquisition Program Administration decided in 2009 that it will directly make arms purchases without going through dealers to save money and improve transparency,” said Song. “It decided that exceptions would be made only when the arms manufacturers demand contracts to be made through dealers, but the principle was never truly adopted.”

The Board of Audit and Inspection warned the Defense Acquisition Program Administration to purchase arms through direct contracts. It, however, still purchased more than 11.8 billion won worth of weaponry through arms dealers in the first nine months of this year.

“The procurement authority made purchases worth 473.9 billion won through one particular dealer over the past five years, and 71 cases of defects were reported with those armaments,” Song said. “The substandard sonar systems for the botched Navy project of the Tongyeong salvage and rescue ship were purchased through this dealer.”

In an attempt to upgrade the country’s aging rescue ships, the Navy commissioned an ambitious project to build a next-generation rescue and salvage ship. The Tongyeong project cost 159 billion won, and the ship was completed in 2012.

The Navy, however, refused to accept the delivery, complaining that its equipment - including the sonar systems - didn’t work properly. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, the builder, blamed the Defense Acquisition Program Administration for providing it with the substandard sonar systems.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said its current system has limits for the agency to participate in electronic bidding overseas. It also said it doesn’t have enough specialists to handle deals with foreign builders directly, but promised to make improvements.

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