On to Plan BUnsurprisingly, the South Korean defense minister’s repeated plea for Washington to license the export of four key technologies for our indigenous next-generation KF-X fighter program was shot down.
Washington, highly protective of strategically sensitive defense technologies, had made it clear from the very beginning that it would not allow the transfer of the technologies regardless of the agreement between Lockheed Martin and Seoul at the heart of a multi-billion-dollar project to develop a next-generation fleet of combat jets for Korea.
The Defense Ministry sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in August asking the Pentagon to reconsider. Korean minister Han Min-koo did not receive a return letter until the day he flew to Washington accompanying President Park Geun-hye on her state visit to the United States this week.
And the same request was flatly denied when he brought it up in a face-to-face meeting with his counterpart in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
The minister didn’t really need to accompany the president on her visit, as the two defense ministers were scheduled to meet for a regular bilateral Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul early next month.
It was wishful thinking to believe Washington would suddenly change its mind about handing over core defense technologies just because the president is visiting the country.
The Defense Ministry looked as if it was whining to get what it wanted, even though it was well aware that the U.S. does not allow access to its key defense technologies, even to its closest allies.
Korea desperately needs the technologies to produce active electronically scanned array radar, electronic warfare, infrared search and track and electro-optical targeting pods for the KF-X fighter program.
The ministry is seeking to locally develop the technologies or get them from Europe, but these options are not really plausible.
It was too naive to think that Korea could perfect a next-generation fighter program with a budget of 18 trillion won ($16 billion) in just a decade when advanced countries have spent double the money.
Seoul must come up with a realistic Plan B. Korea has secured 40 of the 60 jets planned for the third-stage program. It should look for an alternative business partner that can surely transfer the technology for the last batch of 20.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 17, 26