Suspicious of stolen technology, U.S. suspends weapon exports to S.Korea

Posted on : 2011-11-21 12:50 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Analysts say the suspicions follow other claims of stolen technology
The “Tiger Eyes” sensor suite installed on the F-15K No. 3
The “Tiger Eyes” sensor suite installed on the F-15K No. 3

 is highlighted by the red circle
is highlighted by the red circle

By Lee Soon-hyuk 


Following the war of nerves between South Korea and the United States over the unauthorized dismantling of “Tiger Eyes,” a sensor suite installed on the F-15K, in August and September, the controversy over stealing defense industry technology has recently been spreading to other weapons. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) and others are officially playing down the importance of the issue, but there are signs the fallout may grow, with the United States suspending the export of strategic weaponry to South Korea.

Controversy over technology theft

U.S. suspicions that South Korea was stealing defense technology began with an incident involving the breaking of seals around the F-15K’s “Tiger Eyes” sensor suite. Installed under the fuselage of the F-15K, these sensors help to accurately bomb targets even at night and in poor weather.

In August, the United States sent an investigation team led by a deputy undersecretary of state to South Korea, where they pressed Air Force officials - then in the middle of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise - about whether they had taken apart the Tiger Eyes without authorization. The Air Force responded that the seals on the Tiger Eyes had been damaged when they were installed on the aircraft. In September, a joint South Korea-U.S. investigation team was formed, but DAPA recently explained that the team’s investigation was unable to find signs that the part had been disassembled. According to a source, however, South Korea demanded the United States produce evidence that they had illicitly examined the device, but the U.S. did not, saying that to do so could reveal an informant. The source said that the United States was not convinced by South Korea’s explanation, and that both governments appear to have reached different conclusions.

Some analysts also claim that this is about more than just the Tiger Eyes, and that complaints from the U.S. government had been accumulating. A typical example is the ALQ-200, an external radar jammer manufactured by LIG Nex1. The Agency for Defense Development (ADD) has promoted the ALQ-200, which, when attached to the underside of an aircraft, detects radar waves coming from enemy missiles and scrambles them, as its own technology, but the United States suspects the technology was pirated. In particular, the U.S. was reportedly shocked when South Korea pushed to export the technology to Pakistan, where it might be installed on Chinese-made fighters, and plans to export the jammer were canceled.

Stopping strategic weapons exports to South Korea

After returning to the United States, the investigation team that had looked into the Tiger Eyes suspicions reported to the White House and Congress, resulting in the suspension of export of strategic weapons to South Korea. A typical example was Congress’s application of the brakes to the export of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, which South Korea has been discussing adopting since the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Local defense industries, for whom weapons development itself becomes difficult if key parts cannot be imported from the United States, also went into a state of emergency. Talk has spread within and outside of the military of one firm that sent high-ranking executives to the United States to beg in vain for the United States to allow it to export one of its products with U.S. technology.

In addition, the U.S. State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) has reportedly decided recently to investigate suspicions of technology piracy in major weapon systems South Korea that has been promoting as developed using indigenous technology. Accordingly, the U.S. Embassy is currently investigating. The fire controls of the K1A1 tank, which, along with the ALQ-200, had previously been a matter of controversy, the MLRS system and the Cheong Sangeo and Hong Sangeo torpedoes are said to be major targets of the investigation.

D&D Focus Editor in Chief Kim Jong-dae, who first reported on the Tiger Eyes controversy in Defense 21, an online webzine on military matters run by the Hankyoreh, said the situation was brought on by a combination of the U.S. keynote of selling weapons to Korea but not transferring technology, and the DAPA’s and ADD’s lax and easy-going attitudes. He expressed concern about the after-effects, such as South Korea’s bargaining power dropping greatly during next year’s “F-X” project to adopt a next-generation fighter.

Meanwhile, regarding the U.S. government’s accurate grasp of the breaking of the Tiger Eyes seals, the existence of a U.S. informant has also become a matter of controversy. The Defense Security Command and NIS have reportedly begun trying to uncover the informant.


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