The government Wednesday picked U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin as the new contractor for its project to renovate the aviation electronic systems of KF-16 fighters that has sat dormant for months due to demands for a cost hike by a previous partner.
Under the 1.84 trillion won ($1.58 billion) program, the Maryland-based company will exchange and upgrade the radar, armament and other integrated electronic systems of 134 KF-16s currently operated by South Korea’s Air Force.
During a defense acquisition meeting presided over by Defense Minister Han Min-koo, Seoul also replaced the provider of active electronically scanned array radars to be equipped in the warplanes from Raytheon to Northrop Grumman, headquartered in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively.
“Lockheed Martin makes the F-16 platform and thus has much know-how and competence on how to embody the aircraft’s capabilities,” Defense Acquisition Program Administration spokesperson Kim Si-cheol said at a news conference.
“After the upgrade, the KF-16s will be capable of carrying out network-centric warfare and operating cutting-edge weapons systems as the Air Force’s main fighter jet.”
A KF-16 fighter jet takes off during a takeoff and landing exercise on Dec.1 in Changnyeong County, South Gyeongsang Province. (Air Force)
In July 2012, the state-run weapons procurement agency selected the U.S. arm of U.K. firm BAE Systems for a 1.75 trillion won upgrade program. But it has since last summer been stalled, as the U.S. government and the company requested an increase of 800 billion won for risk management expenses.
As concerns soar over the delay and a resulting potential vacuum in airpower, the National Assembly formally demanded an audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection on Nov. 30.
With two planes having already been moved to a U.S. air base, DAPA expects to start receiving the refurbished aircraft in 2018, one year earlier than the initial schedule.
“We may face some difficulty going through the upcoming audit and moving forward with the project at the same time, but will make utmost efforts to clear up every single suspicion,” Kim said.
“Since Lockheed has been conducting separate upgrade projects presently for Taiwan and Singapore, it can build on its experience from there and apply to our program in a more cost-efficient and effective manner.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org