By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- Indonesia has asked South Korea to help its engineers involved in a joint fighter jet development project catch up with the technological progress made while they were away back home over coronavirus concerns, the defense ministry said Wednesday.
Indonesia is a partner for South Korea's 8.8 trillion won (US$7.9 billion) project to develop its first homegrown supersonic combat plane, though Jakarta has stopped making payments for the 20 percent of the total development cost it had promised to shoulder.
Indonesian engineers had been participating in the development in South Korea, but they returned home in March last year amid the coronavirus pandemic. South Korean engineers continued with the development and unveiled the jet's first prototype earlier this month.
The ministry said Indonesia reaffirmed its commitment to the project during its Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto's visit to South Korea to attend the rollout ceremony, after its failure to make payments gave rise to speculation that the country could quit the program.
"Indonesia welcomed proposals made by South Korea to boost the two countries' defense cooperation and expressed hope for South Korea's support to help Indonesian officials catch up with the technology gap in the KF-21/IF-X joint development project," the ministry said a report to the parliament.
Possible cooperation includes the provision of unused military supplies to Indonesia, the ministry said.
"President Joko Widodo himself agreed to the continuation of the KF-21/IF-X business, and the defense minister has also expressed willingness to do his best for the success of the project," the ministry said.
The joint work is expected get back on track in months, officials said, with the two sides pushing to hold the next round of negotiations on sharing the development cost in the first half.
The two countries launched negotiations on the fighter jet project in 2018 after Indonesian President Joko Widodo sought to adjust his country's burden, citing financial difficulties. They last held negotiations in September 2020.
The arms procurement agency said the KF-21 will undergo various ground tests starting next month.
The first flight test is scheduled for 2022, with the entire development set to be completed by 2026.