July 12, 2011 defense-aerospace.com
(Source: Jakarta Globe; published July 12, 2011)
Indonesia has taken a huge gamble in a deal with South Korea to manufacture a new type of fighter plane, an expert warned on Monday, with a real risk that the project could end in disaster.
“The aim for transfer of technology is positive, but there is a basic problem in it,” said Connie Bakrie, a defense analyst from the University of Indonesia. “Will it be a cheaper and better fighter? Why don’t we buy planes already in operation?”
The warning came as the Defense Ministry prepared to deploy a 36-man team of engineers and Air Force officers to South Korea for training on building the KFX, which former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung ordered built in 2001.
The initial stage of the deal is estimated to cost $8 billion, with Indonesia required to shoulder 20 percent of the cost, or around $1.6 billion. The rest will be financed by South Korea.
Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said on Monday that the planes were expected to be ready by 2020, with Indonesia set to buy 50 of an estimated 200 units expected to be produced under the KFX project.
“Hopefully by that year, we won’t be left behind by our neighbors in overhauling our defense systems,” Purnomo said.
State news agency Antara said the KFX would best the F-16 fighter jet with a “50 percent higher attack radius, better avionic system and better radar as well as stealth capabilities.” The F16 was first produced in the 1970s, although modern versions are improved.
“We will also get 20 percent of the fighter jets’ sale revenues,” Purnomo said. “South Korea has proved that it is committed to the transfer of technology, so I have no doubt about them.”
Eris Herryanto, the ministry’s secretary general, said the deal was part of a long-term plan to overhaul the country’s defense system by 2024.
The government has so far earmarked around Rp 1.35 trillion ($158 million) for the project to be released during the next four years as the project enters its production phase. The first phase will cover 18 months of technical development through 2013, after which five prototypes are expected to be built — four on South Korean soil and one in Indonesia.
By 2020, the planes will be mass produced after testing.
Despite doubts that the project would not be successful, Purnomo said he was confident that that state plane manufacturer Dirgantara Indonesia would be able to produce affordable but high-quality aircraft.
“Given the current situation, we have to be realistic,” he said, adding that updating the nation’s fleet was necessary to defense reform by 2024.
The minister said the government agreed to deal because the South Korean government and Dirgantara had commissioned a feasibility study that showed the KFX could be built.
Purnomo also cited a previous deal by state shipbuilder PAL in increasing manufacturing of platform docks to meet rising foreign demand.
The KFX project was forged in 2009 when Purnomo and his South Korean counterparts signed a memorandum of understanding during current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Indonesia in 2009.
The cooperation with South Korea, Purnomo said, was only a way to complement the government’s plan to revitalize the defense system by simultaneously developing and making use of the current state of domestic defense industry and procuring defense tools from other countries.
“We already have the commitment and political will to speed up the process, and it will require consistency as cabinets and administrations change from one to another until 2024,” the defense minister said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is newsworthy as it marks the formal launch of yet another major defense programs in the Pacific Rim region. However, it is far from certain that the KFX program will reach the production stage, as neither country has the technology or the know-how to manage such an ambitious project. The story below, published almost exactly one year ago, illustrates some of the difficulties.)