Lockheed Martin has affirmed its commitment to its F-35 offset obligations to South Korea amid a local controversy around US export licences related to the nation’s indigenous KFX fighter programme.
“The things we’ve read about in the press are strictly a matter between the government of Korea and the US government,” says Steve Over, F-35 international business development director.
“We have our offset programme that we signed up to on F-35 in support of KFX. We intend to fully meet our obligations under this programme. We've had relationships with Korean industry and [the government] that have endured for decades. We are very supportive of their aspirations to develop KFX.”
Over spoke with Flightglobal at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX). The US government’s recent refusal to grant export licences on four technologies deemed “core” to KFX has strained relations between the two governments, and is a key discussion point at this year’s show. The four technologies in question are active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, jamming, electro-optical targeting, and infrared search and track (IRST).
A major element in Seoul’s F-X III competition, which was ultimately won by the F-35, was obtaining offset agreements to help develop KFX.
South Korea plans to eventually obtain 120 twin-engined KFX fighters, and 20% programme partner Indonesia 80. The ambitious aircraft will be more advanced than conventional types such as the F-16 but less so than the F-35.
KFX will rely heavily on imported technology, but Seoul sees it as a crucial stepping stone to building a credible aerospace industry.
Over declined to discuss the specifics of what technical assistance Lockheed can offer in the absence of the four export licences – 21 other technology areas do not appear to have raised an export licence red flag.
"I won't get into the specific details, but what we committed to the Korean government was a level of effort, and a certain number of man years in support of that, as well as an amount of documentation that we would transfer,” says Over. “This has to be done under a framework that the US government permits through export licences. That is where the conversation is happening between the two governments right now…this will determine what the US government allows.”
Over also stresses that the US government was kept fully informed about Lockheed’s offset arrangements pertaining to South Korea’s F-35 buy.
“We made sure the US government was fully aware of everything every step of the way,” he says. “The last thing you want when setting up agreements like this is to set us or the customer up for failure. We're doing this in conjunction with the US government, so if we're going to run into an issue, the last thing we want to do is be either implicitly or explicitly committing to something that we ultimately know the US government may have difficulty with."
South Korea’s is acquiring 40 F-35As, with the first example to roll off the Fort Worth assembly line in early 2018 in low-rate initial production lot 10.