South Korea’s 8.3 trillion won ($7.2 billion) project to buy new fighter jets is stuttering with less than five months left in the government’s planned schedule.
The Air Force plans to acquire 60 new fighter jets to replace aging F-4 and F-5 jets in the nation’s largest-ever single defense acquisition program, called FX-III.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration set the deadline for proposals for June 18, and plans to select the model by the end of October.
However, the DAPA has been forced to reset the deadline for the proposals from the three competitors ― Boeing, Lockheed Martin and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company ― due to failure to meet document requirements.
Although the DAPA received proposals from the three competitors Monday, the process fell through with two of the companies failing to submit Korean versions of all the documents.
In issuing the request for proposals in January, the DAPA stipulated that all documents will be provided in English and Korean, and that when there were discrepancies between the two versions, the Korean version would be given precedence.
However, Lockheed Martin’s submission lacked Korean versions for some of the 24 files, while EADS omitted Korean versions for most of its 32 files.
With only Boeing meeting the requirements for the proposal submission, the DAPA has decided to reopen the process, giving the potential bidders until July 5.
However, some in the industry are voicing doubts as to whether the translations can be completed in time, as the documents contain highly technical language translating the documents in two weeks will not be an easy task.
With the situation as it stands, the DAPA appears to be changing its position on the schedule for the program.
Despite criticism from opposition parties that the schedule was too tight and that rushing the process would make the selection process imperfect, the DAPA had maintained that it was proceeding with the program as planned.
However, even the chief of the DAPA has admitted that the schedule may go long.
“As the bids need to be resubmitted due to some of the companies’ proposals being incomplete, it will be inevitable that it will go over the end of October,” DAPA Commissioner Noh Dae-lae was quoted as saying by the local media.
“As unforeseeable developments may occur during the negotiations and testing phase, the timeframe for end of October does not hold much meaning.”
Other DAPA officials have also explained that end of October is not a “deadline” but a “target” by which it has been pacing itself in conducting the program.
The comments, however, contradict earlier explanations about the October “target.”
At a press briefing last week, a DAPA official explained that negotiators often set a “deadline as a tool for pressuring” the counterparts.
However, those in the defense industry and policy observers have been voicing doubts about the feasibility of concluding the project on schedule for some time.
“As far as I know major defense acquisition projects have not gone according to schedule in the past,” a long-time defense industry official said, declining to be named.
“From early on, industry people have speculated that the schedule was too tight, and there is bound to be some political burden as the current administration is coming to an end.”
The opposition parties, who have opposed the plans to conclude the program this year from the outset, have not failed to hone in on recent developments.
“The contract for the FX (next generation fighter jet) should not be signed as hastily as this. The scale is more than 8 trillion won,” Democratic United Party chairman Lee Hae-chan said at a meeting with Lee Dal-gon, senior presidential secretary for political affairs on Thursday. He added that the models have not been sufficiently proven and that using simulators to test the equipment was inappropriate.
He also requested Lee to consider plans to postpone the program until the next administration to review the models and to form a contract that is “advantageous to us in terms of technology transfer.”
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)