U.S. Worries About Growing South Korean Arms Exports



Rumors were circulating recently in the Korean military and defense industry that U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating Korea's weapons production and exports.

"The rumors said that CIA and FBI agents have arrived and are investigating the Defense Acquisition Program Administration and defense firms to find out whether Korea has developed and exported weapons based on stolen U.S. military technologies," a government official said Thursday. "But our own probe into these rumors found no investigation of DAPA or defense firms by any U.S. agencies."

The rumors began circulating after an unusual joint Korea-U.S. investigation in September of suspicions that Korea illegally disassembled the Tiger Eye, a key component of the cutting-edge U.S.-made F-15K fighter jet equipment for low-altitude night penetration attacks.


In early June, U.S. officials raised suspicions that the seal of one box which the Air Force had sent to the U.S. for maintenance showed evidence of having been broken, disassembled and put back together again.

But a weeklong joint investigation in September failed to find proof that Korea had disassembled the Tiger Eye.

Afterwards, there was talk that the U.S. was probing whether Korea had stolen U.S. technologies, because it was very sensitive to Korean exports of the T-50 supersonic jet trainers and missiles.

A military source said, "It's true that the U.S. is responding sensitively to the increase in our arms exports and that it's holding our exports of weapons made with U.S. technological assistance strongly in check. But it would make no sense for the FBI, a U.S. agency tasked with investigating internal U.S. issues, to conduct an investigation here." The source said the rumors were probably spread to stoke anti-American sentiment.

Korea has recently emerged as the world's third largest arms market. The government plans to decide on weapons models worth more than W10 trillion (US$1=W1,131) in October next year alone. Major procurement plans include the third phase of the Air Force's F-X fighter acquisition program worth W8.3 trillion, the Army's AH-X attack helicopter project worth W1.8 trillion, and the Navy's maritime operations helicopter project worth W550 billion.

American and European firms are competing for a share of these projects partly because their own countries' arms markets have dwindled sharply in the wake of drastic military spending cuts.

The U.S. decided to cut US$350 billion in defense spending over the next decade, plus another likely $600 billion. Since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, European nations such as the U.K. and Germany have kept slashing their defense spending. The U.K. is putting some light aircraft carriers and vertical take-off and landing aircraft on the auction block.

"Some European firms are in such dire straits that this is a good opportunity for us to seek core technology transfers or mergers with them," a government source said.


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