Security adviser optimistic despite KF-X project setbacks

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Security adviser optimistic despite KF-X project setbacks

Korea will produce six prototype advanced fighter jets with indigenous technology by 2025, the president’s top security adviser said Wednesday, dismissing concerns that Washington’s refusal to transfer four core technologies would jeopardize the fate of the project.

Kim Kwan-jin, head of the National Security Office of the Blue House, was questioned by lawmakers on the National Assembly’s House Steering Committee on Wednesday about the country’s largest-ever defense project to build new multirole fighter jets with advanced technologies.

“Is it possible to develop the four core technologies [that Washington refused to share] domestically?” Rep. Baek Kun-ki, a member of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, asked Kim during the session.

Kim responded that 412 technologies are required for the KF-X project, and that Korea already has 90 percent of them.

“The remaining 10 percent are technologies that can be obtained through offset deals or developed through cooperation with other countries,” he added. “All of the four technologies are included in those categories.”

Korea has been pushing forward with an ambitious project, known as KF-X program, 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.

After Washington refused to transfer four key technologies considered crucial to develop the new aircrafts, concerns arose that the project may be in jeopardy. During President Park Geun-hye’s trip to Washington earlier this month, Defense Minister Han Min-koo made another appeal to the Pentagon but was rejected.

On Wednesday, Kim made clear that Korea already has three of the four technologies and that the fourth will be completed before the deadline.

The four technologies are an infrared search and track (IRST) system, electro-optical target tracking devices (EO TGP), a radio frequency (RF) jammer and an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

While the ADD has developed the first three technologies, it is still working on the AESA radar.

“Among the four, we selected the AESA radar as a key task and have worked on the development since 2006,” Kim told lawmakers. “We have conducted maritime and ground tests, but we still need to install it on an aircraft and test it. This step will begin in 2021, and we will produce six units of prototype jets by 2025.”

President Park was briefed Tuesday about the progress of the KF-X project by her procurement and defense officials and ordered them to proceed, while providing transparent and accurate information to the public.

“It is an important project for the country, so the government must speed up its efforts to assure its success by its planned deadline,” Park was quoted as saying by Chang Myoung-jin, head of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

Park was briefed by Chang, Jung Hong-yong, head of Agency for Defense Development (ADD), and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Jeong Kyung-doo for an hour at the Blue House.

“It is wrong to confuse the public and stir up an air of anxiety on a security issue,” Park reportedly told defense officials. “From now on, the progress of the KF-X project must be accurately made public. Transparent explanations must be provided to the people to prevent any skepticism.”

A government official told the JoongAng Ilbo that Park was also briefed about where Korea stands on technology development.

“They briefed the president that Korea will try to develop the radar technology on its own, while simultaneously trying to find a third country that can be a new partner for cooperation,” the official said. “The ADD expressed its confidence to complete it. During the briefing, Park scolded the officials, but many of her doubts were also cleared.”

While Park replaced the senior foreign affairs secretary, Ju Chul-ki, on Oct. 19 for having failed to brief her properly on time about the KF-X project, Park has kept other key security officials. Demands have grown that someone higher in the chain of command, such as head of the National Security Office Kim, be fired.

Before the lawmakers on Wednesday, Kim said Park did not hold him accountable for the controversy. Kim was the defense minister when Korea signed a deal with the United States on another procurement project that was supposed to include the technology transfer deal.

“The president did not talk about holding someone responsible,” Kim said. “But I will make necessary improvements.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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