(IMP) -- Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is seen as one of strongest candidates to win the FX (Fighter Experimental) III project thanks to its stealth function. However, some critics are expressing concerns about the foreign military sales (FMS) program.
They say that should the U.S. aerospace and defense giant win the 8.3-trillion-won ($7.5 billion) bid, Korea will not be able to take advantage of the most-expensive procurement deal in history.
That’s because unlike direct commercial sales (DCS), the government-to-government FMS in which Washington would broker a contract between Seoul and Lockheed Martin is likely to restrict the U.S. company from transferring technology, which Korea plans to use in the project aimed at replacing its aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s.
However, Randy Howard, Lockheed Martin’s director of the Korea F-35 campaign, says Lockheed Martin is open to technology transfer and willing to make strong and solid commitments to help Korea with the project on the back of its track record.
“Lockheed is offering a robust industrial participation, offset, and technology transfer program. The offer includes the opportunity for the Korean industry to participate as a best value global supplier in the F-35 program, manufacturing the center wing and horizontal and vertical tails of the plane,” the American told The Korea Times.
“We’re also offering a robust technology transfer program for Korea’s KF-X indigenous fighter program. This offer includes a large contingent of Lockheed Martin engineers to assist in the design and development of the aircraft as well as an extensive amount of technical data drawn from the company’s existing fighter aircraft programs.”
He cited the T-50 as the firm’s proven track record of delivering on its offset commitments, saying the training jet, manufactured by the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), is the product of a program that delivered technology transfer and an industrial partnership as part of the F-16 Korea Fighter Program (KFP).
Currently, along with the F-35, Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle (SE) and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company’s (EADS) Eurofighter Typhoon are competing to win the FX contract that will purchase a high-end fleet of 60 combat aircrafts and start deploying them from 2016. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) plans to come up with a winner by the end of June.
There is negative public sentiment about the F-35 due to the FMS, under which details of the plane’s sale must meet U.S. government regulations.
However, Howard said there is no difference between the FSM and DCS, given the export of the technology process is the same for both.
“It is the same offices, same people, same restrictions, same enablement, and the fact that it is FMS has no additional bearing on potential export or non-export of the technology to Korea. For both FMS and DCS, they both have to go to the same State Department and the same offices have to approve the transfer,” he said.
In addition, he stressed that Lockheed Martin has been very successful in getting approval and working with the U.S. government under the FMS program.
“It’s important to have a contractor who knows how to sit down and work with the U.S. government to describe the programs and get the approvals for the export of technology,” he said.
“Lockheed Martin has done this better all around the world. We set licensed co-production of F-16s here in Korea. We worked with the Japanese industry for the production of their aircraft, the F-2. We have licensed co-production for F-16s in Turkey. So all around the world we have successfully established indigenous production programs based on the F-16 and other products.”
Along with technology transfer, the cost of the high-end fleet of fighter jets is expected to play a key role.
But the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified the U.S. Congress in March of a potential FMS of 60 F-35 conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $10.8 billion, which is way beyond DAPA’s expectations.
Howard is confident that the final cost of an F-35 program for Korea will go down, calling it a “cost ceiling.”
“The production cost of the F-35 has been reduced by 50 percent from the first year of production to the fifth year of production,” he said.
“We are in final negotiations with the U.S. government on the sixth and seventh production lots and further cost reductions will be realized. The final cost of an F-35 program will be based upon discussions that occur between the Korean and U.S. governments.”
Among the three candidates, the F-35 is the only fifth-generation multirole fighter and the director said it provides a quantum lead in capability over all fourth-generation ones.
“2G phones are functional. You can do two things ― make phone calls and get email. But it does not have any apps. It’s limited in how it functions in today’s world and for the future. It’s at the end of its production life. That is a very similar analogy to a fourth-generation airplane. It’s at the end of its production and has limited functionality, and its future is not very bright,” he said.
“And yet, smartphones change how you live your life. You can do so many more things with a smartphone: You can put new software on it because there are applications out there which you can plug and play very easily. Smartphones are multitasking and this is what the F-35 does. It multitasks."
“If I came to you and said I want you to buy 60 2G phones, and I will give you all the software that goes with it. Would this be a good deal for you? The real point I’m making is that, Korea already has the vast majority of the software, capabilities, and technology to build fourth-generation aircraft.”