Park adviser pressured to take KF-X project heat

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Park adviser pressured to take KF-X project heat

The main opposition on Wednesday stepped up pressure on President Park Geun-hye’s top security adviser to take responsibility for the debacle concerning the country’s ambitious project to develop advanced fighter jets.

“It has become impossible for Korea to obtain core technologies [from the United States], and Kim Kwan-jin, the chief of the National Security Office of the Blue House, must live up to his word and take responsibility,” said Kim Young-rok, spokesman for the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

The country’s largest-ever defense project, known as KF-X program, faced setbacks after Washington refused to transfer four key technologies necessary to build new multirole fighters with more advanced capabilities.

The government planned to invest a total of 18.4 trillion won ($16.2 billion) to develop 120 jets by 2025.

Last year, the Park administration made the final decision to purchase 40 F-35As from Lockheed Martin under a separate but related F-X project. It also signed a deal with the American defense company stipulating that it would transfer 21 out of 25 technologies needed to push forward the KF-X project.

In a separate contract, it agreed to appeal to obtain U.S. government approval to transfer the remaining four technologies.

However, Lockheed Martin informed the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) this year that Washington did not approve the transfer of the four core technologies ? a decision Seoul asked Washington to reconsider, but which the United States subsequently rebuffed.

Kim was serving as the minister of national defense last year when Lockheed Martin was selected for the F-X project.

According to a National Assembly transcript from Sept. 3, 2013, he told the National Defense Committee that, as defense minister, he would take responsibility for the F-X project.

Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Jong-tae pointed out during the National Defense Committee hearing that the president and the minister were exempt from liability due to the fact that the Defense Project Committee was in charge of the fighter jet selection.

“There is no area in the business of national defense for which the defense minister does not take responsibility,” Kim was quoted as saying in the transcript. “Everything is the responsibility of the minister.”

The lawmaker added that the minister had no right to override the Defense Project Committee’s decision once the selection is made.

“The F-X project is a grand program with 8.4 trillion won in tax money invested. It is my responsibility,” Kim replied.

The committee is headed by the defense minister, and Kim was the minister at the time.

Boeing’s F-15SE, Lockheed Martin’s F-35A and the Eurofighter Typhoon from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company - now Airbus Group - were the three candidates for the F-X project. At the time, Boeing was considered the likely choice.

“It’s over with the F-35A and Eurofighter, so we either buy F-15SE or reject the proposed bids,” Rep. Yoo Seong-min, the chairman of the National Defense Committee, said according to the transcript.

“I guess that would be the decision of the Defense Project Committee,” Kim replied.

At the hearing, Lee Yong-gul, who headed DAPA at the time, also told lawmakers that the three bidders had agreed to transfer key technologies. “What we valued the most was the technology transfer,” he said.

On Sept. 24, 2013, Kim reversed the initial decision to select F-15SEs, and six months later, on March 24, 2014, the committee selected the F-35As.

“We have to make a political decision,” Kim said in the meeting on Sept. 24, 2013.

When asked by the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday about what he had meant by a “political decision,” Kim said that he meant the selection should be made based on a range of issues.

“I didn’t mean politics,” he said. “I meant taking into consideration the budget, but also the trends in science and technology, military capabilities and the Korea-U.S. kill-chain [the preemptive strike system for North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities].”

BY KANG TAE-HWA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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