Washington lends support for KF-X

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Washington lends support for KF-X

Washington said that it would seek to support Korea’s KF-X project to the “maximum extent possible” amid concern in Seoul over whether its defense industry will be able to follow through with its ambitious plans to build its own indigenous fighter jets, which require core U.S. technology.

“The United States continues to support the Republic of Korea’s defense programs and priorities through the transfer of many of our most sensitive defense technologies,” Katina Adams, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday.

“We seek to support the KF-X indigenous fighter program to the maximum extent possible.”

Adams added that the U.S. government is in discussions with Lockheed Martin to address Korea’s “areas of concern” and will “continue to work closely with Lockheed Martin throughout this process to ensure continued support to the KF-X program.”

She pointed to the complexity of such programs and added that “there is often an iterative process whereby export licenses are amended as the program matures and becomes better defined.”

On Wednesday, a working-level group comprised of Korean arms procurement experts arrived in Washington to consult with the United States over the transfer of key technologies needed for the KF-X project. The talks are a follow-up to negotiations that took place Nov. 18 in Seoul with U.S. government over the transfer of 21 technologies from American defense and aerospace company Lockheed Martin.

Amid confusion over whether Korea will even be able to receive those technologies from Lockheed Martin in a timely manner, Korean diplomats have also for the first time joined in defense procurement negotiations.

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

Korea initially asked for 25 technologies from the U.S. defense contractor; however, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) later admitted in September that Washington had rejected the previous April export licenses to share four core technologies pertaining to its F-35 stealth fighter jets.

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.

This led to concerns the ambitious KF-X project would face serious setbacks in its quest to produce locally made fighter jets by 2025.

DAPA had initially told the National Assembly that the U.S. government would approve the transfer of the 21 technologies by November, but last week admitted that there was delay in the export of those technologies because the conditions and terms of the transfer of the hundreds of sub-technologies had to be individually negotiated with Washington - which could be a cumbersome and time-consuming process.

Local media reported that the United States may also reject the transfer of three more technologies, though this was dismissed by DAPA.

“After the National Assembly issue snowballed, at the end of September, we received a request from the DAPA to cooperate for the transfer of KF-X technologies,” a foreign affairs official said.

“Consequently, we have lent support through diplomatic routes and dialogues. This is the first time we have participated in technology negotiations.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is lending support not in the areas of acquiring weapons or technologies but in overseeing the negotiations and supporting areas where needed.”

BY SARAH KIM, YOO JEE-HYE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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