Did Seoul peek into its F-15K Tiger Eye sensor suite?

F-15K.jpgThis morning I came across an un-sourced story in the Chosunilbo about US concerns that South Korea may have meddled with the Tiger Eyes sensor suite used on the ROKAF’s F-15Ks.

According to Lockheed, which provided the equipment under a 2002 deal, the suites offer targeting, navigation, terrain-following and Infrared Search & Track (IRST).


The report quotes an un-named DAPA official as saying that after a week long investigation, “the US tentatively concluded that the Korean air force had not illegually mishandled the equipment.”


I love the phrase ‘tenatively concluded.’ May as well say that the US is still dubious, but just can’t find proof.


In an exclusive feature in this week’s Flight International my colleague Stephen Trimble outlined the Defense Acquisition Program Administration’s detailed plans for the country’s indigenous K-FX fighter. It is difficult to overstate how ambitious this thing is: performance superior to that of the F-16, AESA radar, fly-by-wire flight controls, helmet mounted display, HOTAS, and a night vision imaging system. DAPA also plans a suite of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.


I mentioned Steve’s story to one of my industry sources. He had this to say about the programme: “Koreans are, if anything, hopeless optimists when it comes to their abilities to build military systems.”


His bluntness reflected the skepticsm toward KF-X felt by US defence contractors and government officials who we’ve spoken to. Their attitude toward K-FX is best characterised as resignation. More than one of our American sources sighed when the subject of KF-X came up. They question South Korea‘s ability to bear the project’s likely massive cost, and are also likely to resist Korea‘s demands for the most sensitive technologies. Some Americans also question Seoul‘s partner in the project, Indonesia, a nation that was under US weapons sanctions until 2005.


As if K-FX isn’t enough, Korea also wants to develop a Light Attack Helicopter (LAH) and KAL Aerospace is planning a number of advanced unmanned aerial systems. What’s next? A medium-sized airlifter in the C-130 class? 


In short, DAPA is thirsty for technology. Very Thirsty. Whether this Tiger Eye thing is the real deal or not is anyone’s guess. But as the K-FX and other advanced Korean programmes move forward, we can expect more such stories.  

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