Transparency half the battleKorea Aerospace Industries (KAI) was chosen as preferred bidder for the Air Force’s ambitious program to develop next-generation fighter jets, code-named the KF-X project. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration will conclude the bidding process in June, after negotiations in May with KAI on key issues such as technologies and prices.
KF-X is the government’s largest-ever weapons procurement project that calls for a whopping 18 trillion won ($16.3 billion) budget for designing and manufacturing the advanced fighter jets to replace the Air Force’s decrepit F-4s and F-5s. KAI will manufacture more than 100 of them - more advanced than its KF-16s, the main fighters of our Air Force. Development of the new aircraft will be completed in 2025, with deployment scheduled in 2032.
Government efforts to develop our own fighter jets carry great significance. Korea has reached a phase in which it can build F-16-level fighters beyond the advanced T-50 Golden Eagle jet trainer and light attack aircraft, as well as the FA-50, a new light combat aircraft, both built by KAI for our Air Force.
That’s a marvelous achievement nearly a half-century after the call for self-reliant defense capabilities in 1970. We hope the new fighter jet program will serve as a locomotive to safeguard our airspace and contribute to the development of our aerospace industries through exports.
However, our aerospace industry faces daunting challenges stemming from a practical need for technology transfer from advanced countries, including the United States. As fighter jets are a brainchild of sophisticated technology, KAI has exchanged memoranda of understanding with America’s Lockheed Martin on technology transfer and investment. And Lockheed Martin promised Korea technological transfers involving the KF-X during heated negotiations for offset programs. The government must ensure a successful transfer of technology and prepare for exports of our aircraft from the early stages. The government also must secure enough funds to meet the astronomical costs of the project.
Transparency of the aircraft procurement project also is crucial. Public outrage over the endless cycle of corruption involving the government’s military procurements has reached a limit. KAI is under investigation for its alleged lobbying of politicians, government officials and top brass, and a potential scheme to create a slush fund out of its procurement deals. There must be no corruption whatsoever if the KF-X project is to succeed.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 31, Page 30