Seoul threatens to disqualify F-35
A top procurement official issued an ultimatum to U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin Thursday over its refusal to allow Korean pilots to conduct test flights of its F-35 fighter jet.
“Seoul may eliminate the F-35 from its fighter jet acquisition competition if Lockheed Martine does not comply with our demands,” Oh Tae-shik, head of the program management agency at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), told The Korea Times.
“Lockheed Martin has yet to give an answer on whether the company will allow us to assess the performance of the F-35 by using a chase plane or a remote performance measuring device.”
DAPA spokesman Baek Youn-hyeong pointed out that the state-run procurement agency asked Lockheed Martin in April this year to measure the performance of its F-35 using a chase plane but was turned down.
He added it requested the U.S. company two weeks ago to allow Korean evaluators to monitor the performance of the F-35 by using telemetry, but it has yet to respond.
The F-35, which has suffered from multiple development problems including thermal management, is still being tested and is expected to reach initial operating capability in 2016.
“We have decided to delay the inspection of the F-35 by about nine weeks,” Baek said, though the decision was inevitable as Lockheed Martin and also EADS failed to meet document requirements and the U.S. firm appears the least prepared.
DAPA requested both firms, two of the three bidders for the FX-III program, to resubmit their proposals by July 5 for failing to submit a full Korean version of some crucial documents containing information about cost and the degree of technology transfer.
Boeing, which wants to sell an upgraded version of the F-15K to Korea, was the only contender to submit a complete translation version of its proposal.
Some DAPA officials expressed caution over the possible elimination of the stealth fighter in the three-way race, saying Lockheed Martin may find it unacceptable and file a lawsuit.
Oh also explained that DAPA will need to discuss what would be the most appropriate punitive action against Lockheed Martin if it insists the performance of the F-35 should only be evaluated through simulator tests.
“We are in no hurry to decide what punitive measure should be taken against the Lockheed Martin as we have decided to defer the inspection of the F-35,” the DAPA official said.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin, which was considered the most likely contender to win the bid, is suffering from misleading media reports and rumors.
A recent report claims that DAPA has been attempting to change the evaluation criteria of the FX-III program in favor of Lockheed Martin, claiming that a flight test was a mandatory requirement for all contenders.
Rumors say DAPA has secretly changed the criteria for the FX-race, including the flight test requirement set by the Korean Air Force, because President Lee Myung-bak promised Washington Korea would purchase the F-35.
A DAPA spokesman denied accusations of possible collusion, adding that his agency remains firm that it will adhere to the detailed selection criteria that it provided the three contenders in April.