In a development that has the potential to strain diplomatic ties, South Korea has accused Indonesian engineers participating in the development of the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet of allegedly stealing technologies associated with the project.
On January 2, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), a government-operated procurement agency, revealed an ongoing investigation into Indonesian engineers dispatched to Korea Aerospace Industries.
The inquiry concerns suspicions of their involvement in illegally acquiring technologies for developing the KF-21 fighter jet.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has conveyed that the engineers are suspected of storing data from the KF-21 development on a USB device.
A DAPA official told local media, “A joint investigation of related agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, is underway to look into the circumstances of the Indonesians’ alleged technology theft.”
The ongoing investigation is reportedly focused on ascertaining whether the stored data contains strategic technologies linked to the KF-21 development program.
However, there is a lack of clarity regarding the precise technology suspected of being stolen. Reports indicate the involvement of two engineers in the alleged activity.
Given the engineers’ access to classified areas within the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) building, investigators are considering the prospect of an internal accomplice in their examination.
According to various reports, a contingent of 50-100 Indonesian engineers was dispatched to South Korea for their involvement in the collaborative development of the KF-21 stealth aircraft.
The Indonesian engineers are subjected to a travel restriction, barring their departure from South Korea.
Indonesian officials have not yet issued a formal response to the allegations. EurAsian Times has also sought a response from the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Seoul, Republic of Korea; however, as of now, no updates have been received from the Embassy.
Challenges Surrounding Indonesia’s Participation In the Project
If proven true, the accusations could have far-reaching consequences for the defense collaboration between the two nations, casting a shadow over the ambitious project.
The KF-21, a joint venture between Indonesia and South Korea, has been celebrated as a significant milestone in defense cooperation.
The latest accusation adds to the challenges faced by Indonesia, which has encountered difficulties in meeting its financial commitments to the project.
Indonesia has encountered challenges in contributing the stipulated 20 percent of the project’s total cost of 8.8 trillion won (US$6.5 billion). This has raised concerns about Indonesia’s commitment to the program initiated in 2015.
Indonesia is estimated to have paid 278.3 billion won for the project but remains almost 1 trillion won behind in payments.
The payment issue escalated, so Indonesia recalled its 114-member engineering team in March 2020. However, following extensive discussions with their South Korean counterparts, Jakarta reaffirmed its commitment to the project. In August 2021, Seoul permitted the Indonesian engineers to return to South Korea.
Nonetheless, the failure to meet financial obligations fueled speculation about the country’s potential withdrawal from the program. Poland and the UAE have purportedly signaled their interest in replacing Indonesia in the project.
Indonesian officials have consistently affirmed their commitment to the KF-21 program despite persistent payment challenges.
In September 2023, President Joko Widowo reiterated Jakarta’s participation, and earlier that year, Deputy Defense Minister Wamenhan Herinda noted Indonesia’s “big commitment” to the KF-21.
Similarly, In January 2024, Dedy Laksmono, Director of Technology and Defense at Indonesia’s Defense Ministry, said that Jakarta remains committed to addressing the outstanding debt linked to the joint development of the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet project.
Furthermore, the Korean Embassy in Indonesia recently released an animated video titled “KF-21/IF-X fighter jet jointly developed by Korea and Indonesia.”
The Indonesian Air Force is anticipated to operate 48-50 KF-21 examples, with local production by state airframer Indonesian Aerospace. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) aims to deploy 120 KF-21s.
In addition to the KF-21 commitment, Jakarta has orders for 48 Dassault Rafale fighters and a memorandum of understanding with Boeing for 24 F-15EXs.
The KF-21, propelled by two GE Aerospace F414 engines, is undergoing flight testing utilizing six prototypes. Mass production is scheduled for 2024, with deliveries to the ROKAF to begin in the second half of 2026.