President Park Geun-hye asked the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), Tuesday, to make efforts to push forward the country's KF-X project to develop indigenous fighter jets by 2025 as scheduled.
The comments from the President came amid growing concerns that a delay in the project could be unavoidable because the National Assembly may cut the relevant budget following the U.S. refusal to allow Lockheed Martin to transfer core technologies related to its F-35 stealth fighters to Korea.
She made the remarks when DAPA head Chang Myoung-jin visited Cheong Wa Dae to brief her about the procurement agency's measures to handle the crisis facing the project.
Chang was quoted as saying by lawmakers of the National Assembly Defense Committee, "After listening to my report, President Park asked me to do the best to push the KF-X as planned, because it is the nation's most important project."
According to officials, Chang told Park about DAPA's plans to push for domestic development of related technologies along with cooperation with foreign companies.
Chang attended the Defense Committee's subcommittee meeting hours after he visited Park.
The Defense Committee has been holding this meeting from Monday to examine the defense budget for next year, but the evaluation is being dragged out with lawmakers saying that they need more time to look into KF-X funding.
Rep. Kim Sung-chan of the ruling Saenuri Party said, "We decided to further examine the reliability and feasibility of the KF-X project."
Rep. Yoon Hu-duk of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) also said, "We need more time to decide whether to go with or reduce or increase the KF-X budget."
Lawmakers say the plenary session will possible be held on Thursday.
Observers say with the President expressing willingness to go forward with the project as scheduled, it would be difficult for the members of the ruling party to cut the KF-X budget.
The subcommittee is examining whether the 67 billion won submitted by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance is reasonable to be earmarked next year for the KF-X project.
The ministry and the DAPA were hoping the Assembly would increase the funding, as the money was already cut in September by the finance ministry from the 161.8 billion won that the DAPA initially requested.
But concerns grew that there would be a cut again in the 67 billion won after the U.S.'s refusal, which dealt a serious setback to the KF-X, weakening the feasibility of the 8.5 trillion won project.
Defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said it would be improper to delay a national project because a few technologies are currently unsatisfactory.
"We are hoping that the necessary budget will be approved so that the project can go forward," he told reporters in a regular briefing. "The KF-X is a very important project for the Air Force and for the development of the aviation industry. It should be completed."
In April, the U.S. government refused to allow the transfer of four technologies ― the active electronically scanned array radar, infrared search and tracking, an electronic optics targeting pod and an RF jammer.