Will this put Lockheed Martin in last place in South Korea's FX-III Fighter Acquisition Program or are they already in the driver's seat?

Will this put Lockheed Martin in last place in South Korea's FX-III Fighter Acquisition Program or are they already in the driver's seat?

This has to be my favorite news of the week, and I’m just going to let Lee Tae-hoon of The Korea Times take it away:

U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin will face a penalty unless it formally offers an apology for misleading statements over Korea’s plan to purchase fighter jets for 8.29 trillion won ($7.3 billion), multiple sources said Tuesday.

Senior officials at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said that Lockheed Martin has undermined the credibility of the government’s plan to purchase 60 advanced jets in a fair international competition.

The company has been cornered over a report by Dusty Ricketts of the Northwest Florida Daily News that claimed Stephen O’Bryan, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program integration, told reporters in early February that Korea had already agreed to purchase F-35 jets.

Many media outlets here churned out articles suggesting that Rickett’s report confirmed the ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker Song Young-sun’s claim that that President Lee Myung-bak promised Barack Obama to purchase F-35s in a summit in Washington on Oct. 13 last year.

Rep. Song told The Korea Times that she still suspects a shady deal might have occurred during the summit, but does not have “hard facts,” nor any witness to back her claim.

Senior DAPA official said the agency sent a letter of complaint to Lockheed Martin on Feb. 15 regarding Korea’s next-generation fighter acquisition bidding in which Boeing and EADS are also participating, but it has yet to receive any response.

They warned that the more Lockheed Martin postpones making a formal public apology, the more it will have to lose.

“If Lockheed Martin hesitates to respond to the South Korean government’s call to make a formal apology, possibly in an attempt to save face, it will suffer a harsher penalty for its role in misleading the public,” a senior DAPA official said.

DAPA has yet to obtain an audio file of O’Bryan’s media briefing on Feb. 1 at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, but it claims that circumstantial evidence indicates that the Lockheed Martin official made a slip of the tongue.

Ricketts, known for accurate reports among fellow journalists, quickly made corrections in his article upon the request of Lockheed Martin, saying “Korea and Singapore are also interested in the jets and will hold open competitions.”

Ricketts, who claims to have taped the session but deleted it, said he agreed to make corrections because he did not want O’Bryan to be in trouble because of a slip of the tongue and that he could not recall what exactly he stated about Korea.

Three other local reporters attended the two-hour session, but none of them have an audio file of the briefing.

Melissa Nelson, AP correspondent, claims to have taped it on her i-phone but accidently deleted most of it, while Laura Hussey, a reporter at WEAR TV ABC Channel 3, and Del Lessard from the Bay Beacon newspaper say they did not record it.

O’Bryan said none of the four Lockheed Martin officials at the briefing taped the session, making it virtually impossible to prove his exact wording that day.

“Since I give media briefings all around the world more than 100 times a year, it is very unlikely that I made such a blunder,” he said.

The four reporters claimed that O’Bryan tried to paint a rosy picture about the prospect of F-35 sales at the session, and that they saw no Lockheed officials recording the event.

Nevertheless, Lessard provided his report that also suggests that O’Bryan mentioned that Korea had agreed to purchase F-35s. (www.ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099641/00160).

“Other countries, including Japan, Israel, Korea and Singapore, have committed or will soon commit to purchasing F-35s through the Foreign Military Sales program through the U.S. government, he said,” Lessard wrote, referring to O’Bryan’s remarks on Feb. 1.

Lockheed Martin’s promotion agency in Korea made the case even worse by providing a media release that claimed that the U.S. defense giant checked an audio file of the Feb. 1 session and found out that Ricketts’ report was wrong.

An official of the agency acknowledged that he made the false assumption that Lockheed Martin had an audio file when he worked on the Korean version of the rebuttal. (Source: The Korea Times)

South Korean Lawmaker Song Young-sun’s assertions that President Lee Myung-bak has already promised to purchase F-35s from the U.S. could either be taken as the claims of a military crusader looking out for the Republic of Korea’s forces, or as political grand-stander looking out for her own ambitions, depending on your opinions of Rep. Song. Dusty Ricketts’ report lends some amount of credence to the former.

It is INCREDIBLY strange that in this current world of hyper-mass media and over-recording of events that we would be completely without any record of Stephen O’Bryan’s comments from the Eglin Air Force Base Event and that all reporters present would have either forgotten to take accurate records or mysteriously lost them.

If truly a mistake, Mr. O’Bryan’s statements appear completely unnecessary for the context of the event, which was to assure an Air Force Base that they’d be flying F-35s in the near future. If he’d been speaking to investors, a bit of hyperbole would have made more sense, though I hope he’s an experienced enough businessman to not count his chickens before they’re hatched.

Rep. Song’s accusations, Mr. Ricketts’ article, and the completely reactionary, North Korea-esque “apologize or suffer wrath!” response to Lockheed from South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) makes me think that perhaps this entire attack is Seoul’s own way of saving face and escaping scandal.

Needless to say, this FX-III Fighter selection race just keeps getting more interesting…

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch