Korea seeks workaround on fighter jet technology

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Korea seeks workaround on fighter jet technology

After the United States refused to transfer core technologies needed to complete Korea-made KF-X fighter jets, Seoul successfully reached out to European aerospace and defense companies last August, according to an official here.

“Regarding the technologies that the United States refused to pass on, we have generally developed them locally and also have pushed for cooperation with Europe,” a government official said on Wednesday.

Last August, Korea got in touch with Selex ES, a British and Italian aerospace company, as well as Israel’s Elta and Sweden’s Saab “to discuss the transfer of the technologies” needed to complete its indigenous fighters that originally had been expected to come from the United States.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) admitted last month that Washington refused licenses to transfer to Korea four core technologies in F-35 stealth fighter jets that are needed to develop KF-X aircraft.

In September 2014, the Korean government signed a 7.34 trillion won ($6.41 billion) deal with U.S. defense and aerospace company Lockheed Martin to buy 40 F-35A jets and also receive technical support for Korea’s project to locally build its own next-generation fighter jet.

However, while U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin will be supplying most of the key technologies, Washington rejected the export of four key technologies to Seoul in April. The rejection wasn’t made public until last month.

The technologies include an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system designed to detect targets faster and more precisely at longer ranges than existing radar in Korea’s fighter jets.

Other technologies are an infrared search and track (IRST) system, an electronic optics targeting pod (EOTGP) and radio frequency jammer technology.

Unless Seoul finds alternative sources for the technologies, it will suffer a serious setback in its ambitions for the KF-X, also known as the Boramae Project.

The Korean government allocated some 8.1 trillion won to develop 120 indigenous mid-level fighter jets to replace its antiquated F-4 and F-5 aircraft by 2025.

Seoul is looking for a company that can provide the AESA radar and make sure it is compatible with the Lockheed technology.

“All three European companies already have the AESA technology that we would like to acquire, and we have confirmed that they do not use U.S. technology, so there will be no problem cooperating with Korea,” the official added. “These companies also want to cooperate with Korea.”

President Park Geun-hye is on a four-day state visit to the United States and will make a visit to the Pentagon on Thursday, the second Korean leader to do so.

She will be accompanied by Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo, who will hold talks with his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Han is expected to raise the issue of the four key technologies with Carter, but he may be rejected.

“Minister Han sent Secretary Carter a letter in August requesting he review [the license issue], but nearly three months have passed without a response,” another government official said. “It will not be easy for the United States to pass on the core technologies of the F-35s launched in mid-2000 to Korea in return for its purchase of 40 fighters.”

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said on Wednesday at a questioning session at the National Assembly, “There has been problems with the U.S Department of Defense not approving [the exports] of key technologies [for the KF-X project] purchased through Lockheed Martin, but there is discussion between authorities.”

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

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