Support within the South Korean Government for development of the Samsung KTX-2advanced-trainer/light-combat aircraft is fast waning in the face of growing uncertainty over its viability, and widening domestic political and financial scandals.

The launch of full-scale development of the tandem-seat jet-powered aircraft has been repeatedly delayed, and it appears increasingly remote that the programme will be given a go-ahead before the country's presidential election at the end of the year.

South Korea's Government is having to contend with a rising tide of criticism in the wake of recent labour legislation and a loan scandal surrounding the failed Hanbo steel corporation. As the trade deficit is also widening, the administration of President Kim Young Sam is shying away from making any commitment to the KTX-2 project before December's election, say observers.

The KTX-2's problems have been further compounded by an on-going Korean Development Institute (KDI) study of the its financial feasibility. "The study has raised some fundamental questions about the economic viability of the programme," says a local defence-industry source.

The study team in December completed a fact-finding visit to Lockheed Martin, which has teamed with Samsung to develop the proposed aircraft. KDI has also met British Aerospace and Daimler Aerospace to look at alternative off-the-shelf and collaborative developments to the KTX-2.

There is concern over the gap between the South Korea air force's requirement for 100 KTX-2s and the projected break-even point of 300-400 aircraft. Seoul also continues to be less than satisfied with reassurances given by Washington on technology transfer and the export of aircraft.

US Department of Defense acquisition chief Paul Kaminski is to revisit to Seoul shortly, during which the issue of KTX-2 is again expected to be raised. KDI is due to submit its final report on the programme in March.

Observers, however, do not expect a clear-cut decision for or against the programme at that stage, but rather a continuation of bridge funding beyond July to maintain preliminary development work until the next administration is in place.

Source: Flight International