Workers at Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) assemble the first prototype of the Korea-developed fighter jet KF-X at its plant in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, Jan. 22. The prototype will be unveiled later this week. Courtesy of KAI
By Kang Seung-woo
Expectations are running high that Indonesia will recommit to the KF-X project, as the defense minister of the Southeast Asian country is expected to attend an upcoming rollout ceremony showcasing the prototype of Korea's first domestically developed fighter jet.
However, some say it remains to be seen if his visit will help get the joint development project back on track.
The KF-X project aims to produce 120 advanced multi-role fighter jets to replace the Korean Air Force's aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s by 2032. Korea and Indonesia signed a deal in 2010 to cooperate on the KF-X project, under which Jakarta would fund 20 percent or about 1.7 trillion won of the total development cost of 8.8 trillion won ($7.9 billion), in exchange for 50 planes that would be manufactured there for the Indonesian Air Force, as well as technology transfers.
However, the joint project hit a snag following Indonesia's delay in payments of hundreds of millions of dollars. The country has paid only 227.2 billion won as of this month out of the 831.6 billion won it promised, citing financial problems, and raising speculation that the country may pull out of the jet project.
In particular, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who took office in October 2019, is allegedly critical of the KF-X. As part of efforts to lubricate the stalled project, Korea has extended invitations for Prabowo to visit here on multiple occasions, but to no avail.
"Should the defense minister participate in the rollout ceremony, his visit could be seen as Indonesia's commitment to the KF-X," a defense industry official said on condition of anonymity.
A government official also said the minister's visit could reconcile the two countries' differing views on the project. "The Korean government has invited him to Korea to address issues involving the KF-X, and his trip to Korea can be a good signal for the KF-X," the official said.
However, Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said it was questionable whether his visit would positively affect the KF-X project. In addition, there is a rumor that Indonesia has requested a $5 billion loan for its resumption.
"Given that Prabowo is a contender in the next presidential election in Indonesia, it seems that Indonesia wants the loan, which would help him cement his billing as a solid presidential candidate, rather than focusing on the KF-X," Shin said.
"However, it is questionable that his visit would lead to normalizing the KF-X."
His envisaged visit comes as Indonesia is seeking to procure multiple warplanes, including Boeing's F-15EX and Dassault Rafale fighters, as part of the modernization of its aircraft fleet by 2024.
"Amid rumors that Indonesia plans to buy those aircraft, it is not seen as a bona fide buyer in the international defense industry among other countries except for France," Shin said.
The defense ministry said, Monday, the two sides were still in negotiations over Prabowo's trip to Korea. As for the rumors about the loan, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said it was not in a position to talk about the matter.
Along with the KF-X, eyes are on whether other defense cooperation projects between the two sides will get back on track on the occasion of the visit. Indonesia signed a deal with Korea in 2019 to purchase three submarines, but this has also seen little progress since then.
Source: The Korea Times Posted : 2021-04-05 16:41