US-South Korea Rift? Of Tiger Eyes & Industrial Spies
In late November 2011, South Korea’s left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper reports that a combination of unauthorized examination of an F-15K’s Lockheed Martin “Tiger Eyes” IRST(InfraRed Search and Track) sensor, and concerns that a number of South Korean products contain copied technologies, have halted “strategic weapons exports” from the USA to South Korea. That reportedly includes the proposed RQ-4B Global Hawk deal.
The allegations are single-source, and written by Hankyoreh, but they are also quite detailed:
“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… 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… 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 U.S. was reportedly shocked when South Korea pushed to export the [ALQ-200] to Pakistan, where it might be installed on Chinese-made fighters, and plans to export the jammer were canceled… 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…”
Hankyoreh also reports that the U.S. State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) has decided to investigate suspicions of technology piracy in major weapon systems South Korea is touting as “indigenous,” including the K1A1 tank’s fire control system, the ALQ-200 ECM jammer pod, South Korea’s developmental K22 230mm MLRS system, the K-745 Cheong Sang Eo “Blue Shark” light torpedo, and the Hong Sang Eo “Red Shark/ K-ASROC” anti-submarine missile, which uses the K-745.
There are a some anomalies here. The US Congress can only block weapon sales that have been announced by the DSCA, and no RQ-4 request from the ROK has been announced. The State Department’s DSCA can refuse to move a request forward to an announcement, however, as they have done for many years now with Taiwan’s request for another 66 F-16C/Ds.
When contacted, the DDTC refused to comment on the Korean reports, or on their activities. We then contacted the US Department of State more generally, who had this to say:
“We are aware of the media reports, and continue to engage our partners on the importance of safeguarding defense technologies. The Republic of Korea has been an important partner in ensuring regional security in N Asia throughout our 61 year alliance.”
Sharp-eyed readers will note that this is a calibrated step above “no comment,” especially since we explicitly invited them to deny the reports regarding the alleged August 2011 visit, or the DDTC investigation. That reply appears to give weight to Hankyoreh’s allegations.
If the problem expands, or the current rift is not repaired, it could certainly change South Korea’s F-X-3 competition.
- While a State Department contact told DID that they don’t have undersecretaries, they do appear to have them. Thanks to readers who pointed this out.