Lockheed Martin has told South Korea that it intends to halt funding for the KTX-II advanced jet-trainer/ light-combat aircraft at the end of June, in the face of continuing Korean Government indecision on launching full-scale development of the programme.

The US manufacturer is understood to have decided finally to withdraw its remaining engineers seconded to the Taejon research centre and shelve all further work until Seoul makes a firm decision.

Interim funding for the programme runs out in July, at which point a proposed teaming agreement between Lockheed Martin and South Korean prime contractor Samsung expires.

Lockheed Martin has been assisting Samsung with the KTX-II since 1992, originally as part of an offset commitment from the sale of F-16s to South Korea. The two signed a teaming memorandum in July 1996, under which Lockheed Martin would take a stake of around 20% in the $1.5 billion project. South Korea has repeatedly held off launching the KTX-II since late1995, because of earlier dissatisfaction with US assurances on technology transfer and export rights and, more recently, opposition within the Government itself.

With growing concern over the economy, it now looks set to delay further any decision on the programme until after the presidential election in December (Flight International, 19-26 February, P17).

Ironically, a visit to Seoul in March by US defence undersecretary Paul Kaminski and a letter from US Air Force chief of staff Gen Ronald Fogelman seem to have satisfied Korean demands on technology and foreign sales.

The move, however, comes six months too late, suggests one defence source. "The programme is slipping significantly to the right and the Government is very happy with that, due the budgetary problems that it is now facing," he says.

A Korean Development Institute (KDI) economic feasibility report submitted to the presidential Blue House in March, appears to have steered a politically safe course, recommending neither outright cancellation nor an immediate go-ahead for the KTX-II. The Government, therefore, has commissioned three other agencies to conduct more detailed economic, technical and defence studies to be submitted later in the year following new visits to Europe and the USA.

Alongside Lockheed Martin, Daimler-Benz Aerospace is pushing its AT-2000 advanced-trainer proposal, while British Aerospace has previously offered variants of its Hawk advanced jet trainer.

Source: Flight International