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Failed tech transfer may delay fighter jet project

Prospects are growing gloomy for Korea’s push to develop an indigenous fighter jet after the country’s arms buyer was found to have failed to secure the transfer of core technologies from the U.S. firm selected to deliver next-generation warplanes.

Last September, the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration agreed with Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. to acquire 25 technologies as part of their 7.3 trillion won ($6.1 billion) deal to purchase 40 F-35 radar-evading fighters to be deployed between 2018 and 2021.

But DAPA officials learned in April that four of them, which were added later to the accord on the condition that the U.S. grant approval, were denied an export license on reasons of technology protection policy. The decision on the remaining 21 is set to be made as early as November, but they have received a positive review so far, they said.

The four technologies are vital to building integrated systems respectively for an active electronically scanned array radar, electro optical targeting pod, infrared search-and-track and radio frequency jammer.

Washington’s rejection posed a major stumbling block for Seoul’s 18.1 trillion won project, dubbed KF-X or Boramae, to introduce its own first KF-16-class warplane by 2025 and deploy 120 units by 2032. 


Officials at DAPA, the Agency for Defense Development and the Defense Ministry argued that they can still secure the technologies through either cooperation with other countries, such as in Europe, or research and development at home.

“We’ve been striving to come up with ways to develop them on our own by 2025. We’ve made numerous attempts to forge overseas partnerships and did receive positive responses from some European countries,” a DAPA official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.

The government has set aside 800 billion won for R&D, he added, though he was unclear about whether it can meet the deadline.

Yet other countries, too, may become reluctant in particular about handing over AESA and the overall system integration technologies given their sophistication, military sensitivity and future competition in the export market.

The agency also came under fire for concealing the U.S. decision and flip-flopping after maintaining a confident attitude toward the transfer despite knowing that the U.S. has never given an export license to any of the four technologies.

DAPA officials offered an apology, saying they did not intend to hide the situation.

By Shin Hyon-hee (