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[2015.11.25] Fighter plane technology transfer from US unlikely this year

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Posted on : Nov.25,2015 16:37 KSTModified on : Nov.25,2015 16:37 KST

Program to develop S. Korean aircraft running into problems over delays of tech that the US pledged to provide

A model image of a Korean fighter plane (KFX)
US approval is looking unlikely this year for 21 key technologies related to Korean fighter plane (KFX) development that the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) claimed would receive final export license (EL) decisions later this month.

The US previously refused to allow transfers for four other key KFX technologies. The program could now be facing serious development problems amid difficulties in the two countries’ detailed negotiations on the 21 forms of technology that the US had previously pledged to provide.

DAPA spokesperson Kim Si-cheol addressed the issue in a regular briefing on Nov. 24.

“We have done our best to honor what we said about November being the expected date [for the EL], but because there is another party involved and there have been some differences on the terms, we will have to discuss those aspects more,” Kim said.

The message suggests that an EL decision by the US is likely to come next year at the earliest.

In Sept. 2014, DAPA signed an offset trade memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the US defense company Lockheed Martin for the transfer of 25 technologies necessary for KFX development. But the US government made the decision in April of this year to deny export licenses for four of them, including AESA radar.

DAPA had previously reaffirmed that ELs would be granted by the end of November for transfers of the remaining 21 forms of technology, including flight control designs.

The agency downplayed the significance of the delay in EL approval from the US.

“The date isn’t the important thing - it’s what kind of agreement we are able to reach,” a DAPA spokesperson said.

“That’s what’s important. We didn’t misrepresent anything,” the spokesperson added.

But the US may be balking at approving some transfers in the negotiation of detailed terms, with unexpected delays occurring in EL approval for the technologies agreed upon in Sept. 2014.

Indeed, sources noted that each of the 21 forms of technology agreed upon contains anywhere from dozens to hundreds of detailed terms, raising the likelihood of differences between the two sides in the negotiation process.

A South Korean government source said four officials with Lockheed Martin, including its director for technology, discussed the 21 forms of technology during a visit to DAPA on Nov. 18-20.

“My understanding is that Lockheed Martin asked us to be very specific and clear about what technologies South Korea needs,” the source said.

DAPA currently has plans to send a negotiation team headed by vice director Jin Yang-hyun sometime around Nov. 30. The team will reportedly meet with officials from the US Defense Technology Security Administration and Lockheed Martin to present and negotiate specific technologies needed for KFX development.

By Park Byong-su, senior staff writer

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