Sunday, March 3, 2013

S. Korea KFX Fighter Deal On Hold Again As Park Takes Presidency

South Korea has decided to put an $8 billion project with Indonesia to develop state-of-the art fighter jets on hold for 18 months, in the latest delay to the plan.

“It will be postponed for one-and-a-half years because of the recent transition of power in South Korea,” Indonesian Defense Ministry spokesman Pos Hutabarat said.

South Korea on Monday marked the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye, the country’s first female president.

“The new government needs more data to convince the Parliament,” Pos said.

He said the delay will push back collaboration on the project to June 2014

The concept for the project originated from then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who served from 1998 to 2003, as part of an effort to replace older planes.

The program was postponed due to financial and technological difficulties until April 2011, when South Korea’s Defense Acquisition
Program Administration (DAPA) confirmed the signing of a definitive agreement between South Korea and Indonesia.

In the agreement, Indonesia would finance 20 percent of the project.

South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development estimated the project would cost 6 trillion won ($5.5 billion) in development, 8 trillion won in production, and 9 trillion won for operating of more than 30 years.

Indonesia planned to replace its aging Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters with the Korea Fighter Experiment (KFX) jets.

Compared with the F-16, the KFX planes are projected to have an attack radius 50 percent longer, a better avionics system and better stealth, or anti-radar, capability.

The KFX project is expected to produce about 150 to 200 units of which Indonesia would get 50.

Analysts have warned that further postponement of the project could negatively affect military relations between the two countries.

Tubagus Hasanuddin, deputy chairman of Commission I at the House of Representatives, said that the commission — which oversees defense and foreign affairs — would summon Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro to clarify the situation.

The KFX fighter’s abilities are designed to be more advanced than the US-built Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon jet aircraft.

The KFX fighter jets will eventually be designated the F-33, and will be part of a “4.5-generation” of jets, as opposed to the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35s.

Indonesia is the biggest Southeast Asian buyer of South Korean military equipment. In 2011 it awarded two contracts to South Korea, one to purchase submarines and the other for KAI T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer jets.

Indonesia has already invested Rp 1.6 trillion ($165 million) in the KFX, as well as sending 30 engineers to South Korea to assist.

Commission I’s chairman Mahfudz Siddik suggested the government to continue its program to modernize the national defense system.

“Our time has been wasted, but we must not let this project get in the way of our defense modernization program,” he said.

South Korea is underwriting the majority of the project, but it is seeking cooperation beyond its initial collaboration with Indonesia.  The partnership extension could possibly include several foreign firms from Europe and the United States, where fighter jet development is most advanced.

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