Lies, false accusations hamper fighter jet program
By Lee Tae-hoon
The country’s fighter jet procurement project is facing a major stumbling block as groundless rumors and false accusations spread fast enough to convince politicians of both the ruling and opposition parties to believe “something is fishy.”
The upsetting truth is that few pay attention to the rationale behind the need to introduce advanced new jets and what is behind an intensifying negative campaign mounted by anti-American, anti-Lee Myung-bak administration figures and anonymous sources.
As soon as the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced a plan to reopen the bid to acquire 60 new jets with a budget of 8.3 trillion won ($7.2 billion), rumors circulated that it was a conspiracy to change the rules in favor of U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin.
The fact is that in order to observe the law, DAPA had no choice but to delay the project for three weeks after finding out Tuesday that two of the three competitors, Lockheed Martin and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), failed to meet document requirements.
DAPA made it clear that it is mandatory for all bidders to submit the Korean version of their proposal during an explanatory session in front of reporters, Air Force officials and industry representatives and stipulated the rule in the its request for proposal (RFP).
However, only Boeing, which won the two previous fighter jet programs, abided by the instruction, while the two others neglected to translate crucial information, such as technology transfer and price.
“In case of a discrepancy between the Korean and English language text, the Korean version shall prevail,” a top DAPA official said Friday.
“We had to request the resubmission of their proposals in order to avoid a possible legal dispute over the interpretation of the text in accordance with the law.”
Another senior official pointed out that his agency notified all three bidders that there will be no revision of the RFP, but malicious rumors spread that Seoul will eliminate requirements to submit information about the cost and the degree of technology transfer.
He noted that media outlets went as far as claiming that Lockheed Martin did not submit any documents about the two crucial pieces of information mandated in the RFP but that is also totally baseless.
“We have no reason to give favors to one party or another whether it is an American company or not,” he said asking for anonymity. “However, an anti-American sentiment and hostile feelings against DAPA head Noh Dae-lae and President Lee Myung-bak appear to have gained momentum to hamper the procurement deal.”
Air Force officials also lament the current situation, saying the government will likely have no choice but defer the project for two to three years for its failure to dispel the spread of false information about the fighter jet program.
“We don’t care who wins the project anymore as all three competing jets meet our requirements,” a senior Air Force Official said. “But it is of the utmost importance to procure them in time as most of the country’s some 250 aging F-4 and F-5 jets will be decommissioned by 2020.”
He warned that pilots of the F-4s and F-5s will end up becoming administrative staff as the country will soon begin to lose about 20 fighters, or a battalion-size Air Force unit, per year.
“A large number of pilots will end up becoming office workers if Korea begins to receive new jets after 2020,” he said.
Under the current plan, Seoul will sign a deal by the end of this year and new jets will be delivered here from 2016 through 2020.
Rumors are rampant that President Lee has made a secret deal with the United States to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the only fifth-generation stealth fighter available in the market, in return for unsolicited favors.