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평화군축센터    한반도 평화를 위해 비핵군축운동을 합니다

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  • 2002.04.30
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"F-X" is a code-name for the next-generation fighter jet acquisition project initiated by the Korean air force. Four major candidates for the 4 trillion won contract are U.S. Boeing's F-15K, French Dassault's Rafale, Russia's Su-37, and the Eurofighter Typhoon proposed by a European consortium. Recently the project got mired in suspicions about external pressure and controversy over fairness.

Air Force Evaluation Team Leader Exposes External Pressure

Controversy over the project got furious when Colonel Cho Ju-hyung, the former leader of the air force evaluation team in the F-X project, disclosed in a TV interview early March that his team was pressured to favor Boeing's model. He claimed that the Defense deputy minister for acquisition told his team that if the F-15K was not selected, the United States could withdraw troops from Korea. But Cho was arrested by the Defense Security Command (DSC) right after the interview, on charges of taking 110 million won from a local agent for Dassault and leaking military secrets. As a result, citizens who were angered by Cho's disclosure got puzzled and began to question the motives and reliability of his testimony. Before long, however, opinions formed that Colonel Cho's bribery case and the allegation of external pressure should be dealt with separately. After sufficient debate, PSPD's Whistle-blowers Protection Body decided to acknowledge Cho as a whistle-blower, and provide him full support considering the importance and benefit that his disclosure may bring to the common good.

Defense Ministry Pressures Evaluation Team to Favor F-15 Before submitting the final proposal in February 2002, each competitor for the contract of the F-X project went through in-flight tests and negotiations about technology transfer between 2000 and 2001. In the field tests, Rafale earned the highest mark, followed by Eurofighter, F-15, and Su-35. Rafale outscored the other models in all of the ten evaluation categories. Colonel Cho, then the leader of the evaluation team, summarized the competition as "the next-generation 'digital' fighter jet (Rafale) versus the 'analogue' fighter developed in the 70's (F-15K)". Besides combat capability, technology transfer was among the most significant concerns. With many critical disadvantages of F-15K as an outmoded model, Boeing was not inclined to transfer the core technology. Apparently, F-15 stood to lose the deal. At that time, Cho claimed, the senior ministry official directed the evaluation team to take out some parts which were unfavorable to F-15 from the report to be submitted to the National Assembly, and not to demand too much technology transfer from bidders.

Unfair Evaluation Method After completing in-flight tests and negotiations on technology transfer, the Defense Ministry revealed the final evaluation criteria and methods to select the successful bidder in January 2002. According to the ministry's announcement, the selection process would be two-staged. The first stage examines four categories: cost, combat capability, interoperability, and technology transfer. If the differences between the top candidate and the runner-up are within three percentage points, the competition will enter the next phase. The second stage considers political and strategic factors including the Korea-U.S. alliance, and no doubt favors the F-15K.

Immediately, these evaluation methods stirred disputes over fairness. During the negotiation session in 2001, the air force clearly stated in its proposal to the bidders that priorities would be given to categories of combat capability and technology transfer. Now, after all the tests and negotiations, the evaluation standards were revised, with the focus shifted from technology transfer to cost. Critics say the ministry's move was made in a bid to favor Boeing, whose sole competitive edge was cost.

In addition, there came out another controversial news report. According to it, the Ministry of Defense send a document to the evaluation institutions and ordered them to set the grade range as 60 to 100 points, instead of zero to 100 points. That is, every bidder would get at least 60 points in every category. This method may be applied in other categories but when it comes to the category of technology transfer, it is a matter of 'yes or no'. Giving 60 points to a bidder that offers nothing is simply absurd. Moreover, such changes in the assessment method were not announced clearly before the contenders handed in their final proposal to the ministry. In many ways, it is highly suspected that the ministry changed the evaluation standards in favor of F-15K, which was much less competitive than its French rival.

Suspicion on Manipulation of Marks

After Colonel Cho's disclosure and the Defense Ministry's unreasonable revision of evaluation criteria made headlines, there was a surging demand from the public for a thorough investigation into the F-X project. Civic groups claimed the selection process should be provisionally put on hold until suspicions on undue pressure and favoritism are cleared. They went on to urge the Parliament to exercise its investigative power to probe into the matter. However, the government pushed for the process anyway, ignoring adverse public opinion.

A very brief result of the first stage evaluation was revealed on March 27. Since the score gap between Rafale and F-15K was less than 3%, the selection process would enter its second stage. The Ministry didn't explain how the differences between Rafale and F-15K were within a 3 percent margin, and didn't reveal details on marks earned by each contender on different categories.

Then a Ministry official was reported as saying "F-15K was ahead of Rafale by 3 percentage points in the interoperability category", which raised fresh suspicions that the marks earned by the contenders were actually fabricated. According to Colonel Cho, Rafale and F-15K earned pretty much the same marks. But the Ministry pressured the air force again to give F-15K a margin of more than 2% points, and that was possible only through fabrication of marks earned by each competitor, he said.

Flaming Public Outcry After the announcement, objections came flooding into the Defense Ministry's web site until it was shut down. Member lawmakers of the Security Affairs Committee are receiving tons of e-mails requesting to hold a hearing on the F-X project. In a press conference in March 27, civic groups raised suspicions that the evaluation methods and results were manipulated. They demanded that the second-phase evaluation should be stopped, and detailed information on the first-stage evaluation should immediately be disclosed. In addition, they called on the President to direct a probe into the alleged fabrication. After the second-stage evaluation, which is biased toward F-15K, there remains the approval of the President only. Now, the ball is in the President's court. Will he go ahead with the selection of F-15K ignoring public opinion, or will he provisionally freeze the selection process and set out to disclose the evaluation results and launch a probe into the allegation of the external pressure? It's time for him to decide. On April 3, 400 nationwide civic groups had a press conference and launched "Action Coalition for Probe into the F-X Project and Revocation of the Virtual Selection of the F-15K." The government must listen to what people are calling for with one voice.

"It's time to say NO."

"We want a President who can say NO."

Lee Taeho (gaemy@pspd.org), Chief of Policy and Planning Committee, PSPD
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