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South Korea’s KF-X Still Treading Water
AeroBD | The AERO news Company…January 25, 2016, BEIJING : South Korea’s KF-X indigenous fighter program will tread water again in 2016 but has at least survived a risk of cancellation that it has faced over the past few months. Parliament on Dec. 2 authorized spending 67 billion won ($57.3 million) on KF-X, only enough for more preliminary work on the two-engine aircraft, which is intended to be as big as the Eurofighter Typhoon. It would be developed with help from Lockheed Martin and Indonesia, the latter a 20% partner.
The defense ministry may not have wanted to begin full-scale development next year, anyway, since it asked the finance ministry in August to recommend a budget of only 162 billion won. The finance ministry cut the figure down to the level that parliament has approved. The program was not assured of getting any money at all. Political resistance to the challenging project escalated in September when South Korean politicians and the public learned that the U.S. would not supply sensitive technology, despite earlier assurances from the Defense Acquisition Program Agency (DAPA) that Washington would cooperate. In October the defense committee of parliament said it would recommend a termination of funding if DAPA failed to present a convincing and comprehensive report on KF-X.
The committee eventually recommended funding, but there was still a risk that parliament would not OK the recommendation, as it usually would. And President Park Geun-hye also called for DAPA to report on the program. She could have stopped it by executive order but did not. DAPA tried to bypass the finance ministry last month, asking parliament to approve the originally requested 162 billion won. DAPA chief Chang Myoungjin said that if the project did not get that much 2016 funding it could be delayed by two or three years. But it was not clear why one year’s inadequate funding would result in more than one year’s delay. When member of parliament Kim Seongchan challenged Chang on that point, the official said only that the estimate was based on his personal experience.
Since 2012, when DAPA proposed to begin full-scale development in the following year, parliament has repeatedly restricted funding to only enough for preliminary development. The first KF-X would fly around seven years after the beginning of full-scale development, says Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), DAPA’s preferred but unconfirmed prime contractor. Approval for volume production would be given eight years after launch, according to the company’s schedule. A preliminary contract signed by KAI and the government of Indonesia last month seems to have removed immediate doubts about the continued participation of that country. But the question of technological transfer remains unresolved.
Yonhap news agency quotes a U.S. State Department spokesperson as saying: “The U.S. government is in discussions with Lockheed Martin to address [South Korean] areas of concern. We will continue to work closely with Lockheed Martin throughout this process to ensure continued support to the KF-X program.”