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KF-X Fighter Program Faces Turning Point
Government Scrutiny
KF-X Fighter Program Faces Turning Point
  • By Michael Herh
  • September 26, 2015, 03:00
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An artist's depiction of the KF-X fighter when it is completed.
An artist's depiction of the KF-X fighter when it is completed.


Cheong Wa Dae, or the Blue House, has decided to launch a full-scale investigation into the KF-X fighter project. There are growing concerns that the KF-X will not be completed by 2025, as the U.S. government has not allowed four core technologies required for the development of the warplane to be transferred to Korea.

“We are verifying whether or not the fact is true with the Office of Civil Affairs, even though we did not request materials related to the KF-X or summon related people for a probe,” spokesman Min Kyung-wook of Cheong Wa Dae said.

If Cheong Wa Dae begins to look into the case, a thorough in-depth investigation will be carried out to find out why the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) signed the contract, even though they knew that it would be difficult for Korea to receive core technologies from the U.S. The four core technologies that the U.S. refused to transfer to Korea are AESA radar, infrared search and tracking equipment (IRST), electro-optical target tracking devices (EOTGP), and integrated electronic warfare jammer technologies.

The DAPA said that it will develop such equipment through domestic technology and technological cooperation with third party countries and integrate the system by way of domestic technology and technological cooperation with foreign companies. But that does not guarantee success. In the case of AESA radar, the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and LIG Nex1 have been developing an AESA radar since last year, but the progress is slow. The government is planning to only produce prototypes by 2019 and develop aircraft system integration via a second project by 2024. But since the radar is devoid of air-to-ground capability, it is inevitable to make an improvement to its performance.

The government has not mapped out plans on the three other technologies yet. Thus, no companies have been selected for their supply. Finally, even if a KFX airframe is completed, the fighter may become a white elephant. This runs counter to what the air force joint chief of staff stated. “Without the U.S. transferring the four core technologies, we will still be able to develop the KF-X,” said Air Force Joint Chief of Staff Jung Kyung-doo in a parliamentary inspection of the Air Force Headquarters on Sept. 22.

The DAPA’s conduct is called into question for possibly mishandling the project, although they expected a situation where the U.S. would refuse to transfer the technologies to a third country for the protection of its technologies. In 2013, Lockheed Martin, the producer of the F-35A, turned down the proposal itself about the four technologies during the third trade negotiation on the next-generation fighter, saying, “We cannot obtain the approval of the U.S. government.”

But two companies – the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company NV (EADS) which produces the Eurofighter and Boeing with F-15SE – proposed transferring the four technologies to Korea. The DAPA selected Boeing as the first candidate for the FX third next-generation fighter program, but nullified the project, claiming that its stealth function did not satisfy them.