Shame on the Air Force

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Shame on the Air Force

Korean military authorities made a contract with Lockheed Martin to purchase its F-35 - the world’s most advanced multirole fighter jet - for our Air Force’s next-generation fighter jets (F-X) acquisition program even when they knew the transfer of core technologies would be difficult. Out of the 25 technologies Korea requested to be transferred, four will not be transferred due to the U.S. government’s disapproval.

As the four missing technologies are pivotal to domestic production of the advanced fighter jets (KF-X) by 2025, the procurement project may result in nothing. It turned out that the U.S. government didn’t approve the transfer of the critical technologies. At the time of the purchase contract, military experts already pointed out that Uncle Sam did not agree on the transfer of Phased Array Radar and stealth functions to Korea. But our government thought otherwise. During the legislative audit of the government last year, the Ministry of Defense was confident of the technology transfer through offset programs.

After controversy arose, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration explained that it inserted to the contract a clause that both sides would do their best for the transfer of the four core technologies. In other words, our government struck the deal out of the wishful thinking that Uncle Sam would allow Lockheed Martin to hand over the sensitive technologies to Korea. Last April, Washington notified that it could not approve the transfer.

Our government should have made it clear from the beginning that if the transfer is difficult, the U.S. government must offer a quid pro quo, including lowering the purchase price. Japan, too, made the same contract with Lockheed Martin to purchase F-35s, but it retains a right to manufacture them in licensed production as well as to build a maintenance hub in Asia. But Korea ended up purchasing these advanced aircraft for astronomical prices without being able to acquire sophisticated technologies or accuse the company of contract violations.

As the sensitive technologies are critical to the success of our KF-X project, the government must develop them on its own or import replacement technologies from Europe or elsewhere. That means massive additional costs for Korea, not to mention a serious delay in deploying the sophisticated fighters on major bases. It could even lead to a worst case scenario in which our K-FXs lag behind others in technological terms. Military analysts say China and Russia could have developed radars powerful enough to detect F-35s.

Technology transfer is not easy. But when large-scale defense corruptions erupt one after another, the public will be utterly critical of the government’s amateurish approaches. Even when we export T-50s, supersonic advanced trainers and multirole light fighters, to other countries, we must get approval from Lockheed because of its incomplete technology transfer. Our Air Force must find effective ways to minimize expected damages to the KF-X project without making excuses.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 23, page 38

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