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Korean state auditor probes KF-X and F-35 contracts for Lockheed bias

Staff Writer |
The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) of South Korea is looking into the nation’s indigenous KF-X fighter jet development program.

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According to the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea (BAI), Friday, its investigation into the implementation of the project’s offset deal has been underway since April, The Korea Times reported.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is subject to the probe.

A transfer of 25 technologies was included in the contract signed with Lockheed Martin in September 2014 in return for Korea’s purchase of 40 F-35 aircraft.

However, before the project was officially kicked off in January last year, the program suffered a severe crisis after the U.S. government refused to allow Lockheed to hand over four core technologies: the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, the electronic optics targeting pod (EOTGP), the infrared search and radio frequency (RF) jammer and the infrared search and tracking (IRST) system.

DAPA said the nation would develop its own AESA radar, which the U.S. government refused to hand over to Korea for security reasons.

Hanwha Thales, an affiliate of Hanwha Group, was selected last year to produce the AESA radar, essential equipment that helps a pilot identify friend or foe in battle and find targets on the ground, under the supervision of the Agency for Defence Development (ADD).

Another controversy erupted surrounding then-Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin’s role in the controversial decision to buy F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin. Kim headed the Defence Acquisition Program Executive Committee, a panel that selected the F-35s over Boeing’s F15-SEs in March last year.

Kim has denied allegations that DAPA lied about the terms of the contract in order to help Lockheed win the bid. DAPA officials said the committee’s decision to choose Lockheed after they first-recommended Boeing’s F-15SE was unexpected as Boeing was more positive in handing over core technologies.

There is speculation that other weapons projects could also be investigated as President Moon Jae-in is determined to eradicate corruption in the country. Cheong Wa Dae has announced a plan to establish a special task force aimed at overhauling defence business contracts during the previous government.

The KF-X project is aimed at locally developing twin-engine combat jets equipped with state-of-the-art aviation electronics equipment by 2026, which would replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s.

Developing the fighter jets is estimated to cost 8.5 trillion won, and an additional 10 trillion won is needed to produce 120 jets by 2032.

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