KF-X project faces hurdles with key tech exports nixed

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KF-X project faces hurdles with key tech exports nixed

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) admitted Thursday that it is uncertain whether Korea will be able to produce its indigenously built KF-X fighter jets by 2025, as originally targeted.

The admission follows the recent revelation that Korea will not be able to receive four core technologies from the United States for its ambitious plan to build 120 fighter jets in 10 years.

The 8.5 trillion won ($7.1 billion) program by the Ministry of National Defense and DAPA, known as the Boramae Project, faces setbacks now that Korea has been forced to come up with alternative measures to fill the technological gaps.

“Core equipment for the KF-X, the AESA radar, is being developed by a Korean company that has begun to develop the technology in cooperation with a foreign company, but there may be limitations in integrating the radar system with the other U.S. technologies that will equip the jet,” a DAPA official told reporters on Thursday.

The active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system is designed to detect targets faster and more precisely at a long range than the existing radars in Korea’s fighter jets.

In September 2014, the Korean military signed a contract with the U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin to buy 40 F-35As for 7.34 trillion won, with the understanding that it would acquire 25 technologies needed to build its own mid-level fighter jets.

However, DAPA confirmed this week earlier reports that the United had rejected the transfer of four core technologies in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jets needed to develop the domestically made KF-X aircrafts.

Key technologies also include an infra-red search and track (IRST) system, an electronic optics targeting pod (EOTGP) and radio frequency jammer technology.

Washington rejected in April the export of those technologies, citing security reasons, though Korean officials were already aware at the time of the deal that it would be hard to acquire those technologies and went through with it anyway.

A DAPA official went on to apologize for not making it clear that the United States would not transfer the four core technologies to Korea.

“The U.S. government has not approved the export of this technology to any other country, including Korea,” the official went on to explain.

DAPA has since received backlash for not sharing that information.

“We apologize for not explaining it properly,” said the official. “From the beginning, the United States said that it could not transfer four out of the 25 technologies, and we were not able to explain because we were trying to the last minute to acquire that technology.

“Furthermore, it is difficult to cancel the contract because these points were already discussed with the United State when the contract was signed.”

The other 21 technologies are under review by Washington before they can be transferred to Korea. However, there does not appear to be any issues with these, the official added.

Korea now must develop the four core technologies on its own or partnering with another country.

The official added that the Agency for Defense Development and Korean aerospace manufacturer LIG Nex1 have begun working on the AESA radar system since the end of last year.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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