Han must take responsibilityThe controversy over Washington’s rejection to Seoul’s request for the transfer of core technologies to allow Korea to develop a fleet of next-generation fighter jets is getting bigger due to various questions about the government’s behavior. According to the 2013 National Assembly’s defense committee records, Lee Yong-geol, then-head of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), told lawmakers that Korea and the United States had agreed on the transfer of key technologies for the indigenous KF-X fighter jet program after Seoul chose Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jets for its next-generation jet prototype.
At the time, Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin - now chief of the National Security Office of the Blue House - said he will take full responsibility for the KF-X program, including the technology transfer. After two years, however, it turns out that the DAPA head and then-Defense Minister Kim lied from the beginning. The U.S. Pentagon made it clear in April that it cannot give permission to Lockheed’s transfer of four core technologies needed for the KF-X program. It reiterated its position when two defense ministers met last week in Washington.
Without the new technology, including active electronically scanned array radar, the new jets will not be any different from Korea’s current fleet of KF-16 fighters. The country’s largest-ever arms program worth $16 billion would be a waste. Yet nobody seems to be taking responsibility. The president only replaced her senior foreign affairs secretary, Ju Chul-ki. Kim Kwan-jin, who is at the heart of the problem, remains as chief of the National Security Office. Kim was the defense minister who chose Lockheed over other bidders. He must have known the risk involved in the deal, and yet he claimed there was no problem in technology transfer for the F-35.
The question is whether authorities were aware of the downsides when they approved Lockheed as a business partner for the multibillion-dollar fighter jet project. The Blue House must investigate the matter thoroughly and take necessary steps on those responsible for the major misstep in the program. Defense Minister Han Min-koo also must be held accountable for the public shame he brought on the president and the country after his face-to-face plea was flatly denied by his U.S. counterpart.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 22, Page 34