04 Agustus 2011

Korea Awaits New Partner for $5 bil. Fighter Program

04 Agustus 2011

KFX K-200 model (image : chosun)

The door is open for another country or foreign firm to participate in Seoul’s initiative to develop a new combat aircraft with a budget of $5 billion, defense officials here said.

“Many countries, including the United Arab Emirates, have shown interest in investing in the project,” Noh Dae-lae, head of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration Commissioner, said Tuesday.

“We are planning to allow another country with the most attractive offer to join the KF-X program.

”The KF-X program refers to the multirole fighter development program that Seoul has pursued since 2000 to replace its aging F-4/5 fighter jets.

Indonesia pledged last year to invest $1 billion in the project and buy 50 KF-X fighters for allowing its researchers to participate in development.

Noh made the remarks at the kickoff ceremony of the KF-X project’s feasibility study to be jointly conducted with Jakarta, which will also shoulder 20 percent of the $50 million initial study costs.

Thirty-five Indonesian researchers will team up with 137 Korean experts for the exploration stage which is scheduled for completion with the selection of a prototype at the end of 2012.

Noh noted that he expects another KF-X partner to share up to 29 percent of the development costs and purchase some 150 new fighters in return for joining the consortium.

“The global trend is clearly moving toward joint development as the risk for the development of an advanced fighter is high despite the limited market,” he said.

Industry sources say Poland and Turkey have also expressed an interest in forging a partnership with Korea for the program.

American defense giant Lockheed Martin, which invested 13 percent in Korea’s development of T-50 supersonic trainer jets, is also apparently considering participating in the Seoul-led fighter jet development program.

“We’d be honored to be a partner in the KF-X program,” Stephen O’Bryan, a vice president of Lockheed Martin, said last month.

Lee Dae-yeorl, program director of the Combined Research and Development Center for the KF-X, said he would welcome industry participation from the world’s leading aerospace firms.

“We believe defense firms, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) can help us reduce the technology gap,” he said.

He said Seoul aims to develop an indigenous aircraft with limited stealth capabilities and a locally developed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system.

“We’ll develop a whole new fighter never seen anywhere else in the world,” Lee said.

He noted that the cost per KF-X jet is estimated at $55 million and its production aircraft is expected to be deployed from 2020.

Critics, however, say the future of the KF-X program remains uncertain as Korea plans to drop the $5 billion plan if it fails to attract foreign investment of 40 percent or above.

(Korea Times)

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