US allegedly pilfered sensitive KF-21 data to bolster F-35 sales

The ongoing investigation by South Korea’s intelligence agency into the alleged data theft of KF-21 Boramae by Indonesian engineers is not free from controversy. New suspicions are arising, questioning the rush and potential carelessness with which South Korea’s intelligence agency was quick to blame Indonesian engineers for data breaches in the KF-21 Boramae project. 

Korea ignited both F414 engines of its stealth KF-21 Boramae
Photo credit: ADN

Considering these emerging doubts, one must consider the possibility that Indonesian engineers might not be the masterminds behind the alleged data theft from the KF-21 Boramae, contrary to the initial claims made by South Korea. If these accusations prove to be unfounded, the responsibility falls on South Korea to vindicate the Indonesian engineers and restore their reputation within the KF-21 Boramae program. 

The entire incident surrounding the data theft accusation can be compared to a complex, tangled string. Why do we say this? It’s because the findings of the ongoing investigation seem to contradict South Korea’s initial assumptions. To understand the full context, it’s important to note that the KF-21 Boramae project is sensitive—packed with cutting-edge technology. The US, as one of the main technology contributors to the KF-21 Boramae, wields a significant influence over the program. While South Korea is seen as independently taking on the creation of four core technologies for the KF-21 Boramae, it is a reality that the US has not yet wholly endorsed the KF-21 project.

The KF-21 exists thanks to the F-35

The US manifested its disapproval subtly, by advocating South Korea purchase 59 units of the F-35. Promptly responding and without raising excessive queries, South Korea adhered to the US’s suggestion and procured the F-35, receiving technological support for the KF-21 Boramae program in return. 

The US’s participation in the KF-21 Boramae program allows it to preserve the F-35 market. The intent is to prevent the KF-21 Boramae from interfering with the F-35 market, which encompasses potential sales to countries like Poland and Indonesia. A prime example of the US’s concerted efforts to protect the F-35 market is its successful counteroffensive against Russia’s leading competitor, CAATSA. Both the Su-57 and Su-35, perceived as threats to the F-35 market, were effortlessly dismissed by the US. 

Watch: KF-21 Boramae fighter armed with 4 METEORs flew for the first time
Photo credit: YouTube

Simultaneously, over in Europe, Eric Trappier, the chief of Dassault Aviation, claims that the F-35 wields significant control over the continent’s fighter market. Dassault is striving to develop fifth and sixth-generation fighters to take over from the Rafale class. In fact, the Rafale F5 is a symbol of Europe’s resistance to the F-35’s expansion. “Over the past four years, Lockheed Martin has flourished in Europe, with six countries deploying the American company’s fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets.”

Is the US the spy?

Even amidst fervent appeals from French leaders for intra-European consolidation and procurement of locally developed fighter jets, the F-35 continues to claim victories in a slew of fighter jet contests, overpowering domestic rivals such as the Dassault Rafale, Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen, and the Eurofighter Typhoon under Airbus’s canopy, as informed by European officials and industry pundits. 

There’s no denying the exceptional strides the US has made with the F-35 project. It’s riveting to witness how they’ve managed to profoundly shake up a market as guarded as the one for cutting-edge combat aircraft, even successfully penetrating areas traditionally dominated by Europe and Russia. Despite some comparisons being drawn with the likes of the KF-21 Boramae, the latter doesn’t quite pose a formidable challenge to the US, not for the time being at least. 

US allegedly pilfered sensitive KF-21 data to bolster F-35 sales
Photo credit: TrenAsia

Moving onto South Korea, recent reports have shed light on their allegations against Indonesian engineers, revealing a twist in the tale. It was indeed the US who reportedly conducted espionage activities on the KF-21 Boramae program, acquiring vital information on four indigenous technologies that South Korea chose not to disclose. Reflecting on these revelations, Min.news suggested, “The suspected data theft linked to the KF-21 Boramae could potentially implicate Western nations and could spark an unforeseen diplomatic discord between South Korea and the United States.”

The logic

It’s highly plausible that the US might be keeping tabs on the KF-21 Boramae program, given the fact they’d rather it not be sold internationally. The likelihood of South Korea delving into the possibility of the US spying, especially with regards to the speculated data theft from Indonesian engineers, seems slim due to apprehension. 

Supersonic 4.5-gen KF-21 Boramae fighter flew for the first time
Photo credit: YouTube

Interestingly, between 2025 and 2029, Indonesia seems poised to bid for new combat aircraft. Amid this, it wouldn’t be a surprise if efforts were made to substitute the deal for 50 units of KF-21 Boramae from South Korea with the F-35.

The claims

Currently, there’s buzz that Indonesian engineers are under examination for allegedly absconding with technology related to the KF-21 fighter jet project, according to a statement released by the state procurement agency. The accusations are focused on engineers, who were assigned to Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI], reportedly secure essential KF-21 development data on USB devices, as outlined by representatives of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration [DAPA]. 

A DAPA spokesperson during a press briefing stated, “A thorough investigation is currently underway, run by a coalition of pertinent departments including the National Intelligence Service. This is to investigate the technology theft allegations brought against the involved Indonesian individuals in depth.” Sources with inside information indicate that the investigation is focusing on the possibility that the secured data might include strategic technology details related to the KF-21 project. Currently, Indonesians are not granted permission to leave South Korea under the present circumstances. 

US-origin

One of the most significant technologies used in KF-21 is the Active Electronically Scanned Array [AESA] radar system. This technology is developed by American companies such as Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

US allegedly pilfered sensitive KF-21 data to bolster F-35 sales
YouTube screenshot

Another key technology from the United States is the Integrated Avionics Suite, similar to the one used in the F-35 Lightning II. This system integrates various avionics components such as navigation, communication, identification, and aircraft health monitoring systems into a singular system. Furthermore, the KF-21 utilizes advanced materials and stealth technology, much of which has been developed in the United States.

Lastly, the KF-21’s engine technology is also influenced by the United States. The aircraft deploys two General Electric F414-GE-400K engines, which are variants of the engines utilized in the American F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. These engines endow the KF-21 with superior speed and maneuverability.

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