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Ruling party lawmakers demand renegotiation of fighter jet purchase

All Headlines 14:52 November 27, 2013

SEOUL, Nov. 27 (Yonhap) -- Senior lawmakers and officials of the ruling Saenuri Party called on the government Wednesday to renegotiate the purchase of 40 Lockheed Martin F-35A stealth fighters from the United States, saying the deal would be unfair.

Last week, the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that it would buy the 40 F-35 Block 3s over four years starting in 2018, with an option to buy 20 more later, depending on the security situation and the budget.

"The government made the right decision in choosing the F-35A for its stealth capabilities, but compared to Japan, the conditions (for the purchase) are strikingly unfair," Rep. Rhee In-je, a six-term lawmaker of the ruling party, said during a meeting of senior party lawmakers and Supreme Council members.

He pointed out that unlike South Korea, which plans to buy all 40 jets as finished products, Japan plans to buy only four as finished products and assemble the remaining 38.

"This isn't an issue that can be glossed over. We must try to (buy the jets) on the condition of technology transfer, on the same terms as Japan, even if that means through further negotiations," Rhee said.

The purchase is expected to take place through a government-to-government deal without an open bid as the F-35 is sold only through the U.S. foreign military sales program.

Industry experts have said the one-way bid gives Seoul less room to negotiate technology transfers or industrial cooperation.

Yoo Ki-june, a Supreme Council member, claimed that Japan won various benefits from the U.S. in return for its purchase because it held an open bid.

"I don't understand why (the government) decided to buy the F-35A, which is still under development, through a negotiated contract," he said at the meeting. "We should hold an open bid for the transfer of core technologies."

The main opposition Democratic Party has also criticized the government for the way it sealed the deal to buy the jets, saying the lack of competition with other firms will force the government to pay whatever price it is asked to pay, despite uncertainties about the jet's performance.

The opposition party has also claimed that the government rejected Boeing's F-15SE, the only remaining candidate in the 8.3 trillion won (US$7.2 billion) defense project, in September with an ulterior motive to buy the F-35A.

hague@yna.co.kr
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