[EDITORIAL] Pick the Best Plane for UsThe government's plan to spend more than 10 trillion won ($8.1 billion) to strengthen the nation's military forces, which will be finalized within the year, is embroiled in problems. First there is the question of whether the U.S. govern- ment has been exerting pressure to influence the decision on which fighter planes to buy. Fierce lobbying by weapons and aircraft makers and their home governments has been denounced in both the Ministry of Defense and the National Assembly, and Defense Minister Cho Seong-tae has directed the Defense Security Command to look into the circumstances of last month's meetings between the chiefs of staff of the three armed forces and the president of Boeing.
It has become known that Mr. Cho did not issue his directive because he assumed something illegal had gone on, but probably to nip such possibilities in the bud. To ensure that the new weaponry and other systems are selected and procured in accordance with the principle of buying what is best for the military, anyone in the military involved in this process, as well as influential politicians, must take extra care not to be used or even implicated in any illegal lobbying.
The biggest portion of the budget for the project, or 4.3 trillion won, is to go for fighter aircraft. Four overseas manufacturers, including Boeing, are to submit bids, and the winning aircraft is to be chosen this fall at the latest. It is said that the competing makers and their governments are already beginning to lobby. Any such lobbying should be conducted in a legal fashion on the basis of relative competitiveness of three factors: performance, price and technological transfer packages offered. Illegal dealings and political bargaining must not be allowed to enter the picture. This also means that no bidder can demand special treatment because of some iospecial relationshiplg with South Korea. In this regard, it is not desirable that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's explanations to Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn on the performances of the American F15K during the latter's recent U.S. visit are being seen as a subtle kind of pressure. Our government must choose the fighter that best suits our defense and whose maker can provide the best techonological and munitions support.