[Viewpoint]Build on the Aegis, but do so quietlySouth Korea launched its first Aegis class destroyer, the King Sejong, a few days ago. South Korea is now the third country, after the United States and Japan, to have the warship, which has a displacement of 7,600 tons. It’s all possible because of the economic and technical capabilities of the world’s leading information technology combined with the consensus of its people that we should be prepared for future military uncertainties.
The ship’s technology and weapons systems are able to identify and track up to 900 targets located up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away at the same time and destroy more than 20 of them. This capacity gives us some hints about our military buildup plans.
Although the main strategic target of the South Korean Navy is to restrain the North Korean navy, it can also now operate in the sea surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Korea is strengthening its military capability to protect its assets on the seas from the risks that have inevitably multiplied due to Korea’s reliance on a high amount of international trade.
The launching of the King Sejong and an additional plan to build another Aegis-class destroyer, which cost 1 trillion won ($1.1 billion) each to build and a whopping 30 billion won a year to maintain, shows that our military power enhancement principles are in line with our nation’s capabilities.
After the Cold War era, however, countries including the United States no longer followed the conventional assumption that they should maintain relative military superiority over outside threats. Instead, they now try to secure an optimum level of military capability based on the level of their military technology and the amount of money the country can afford.
The King Sejong is proof that the Korean government is strengthening its military to a level that fits its national power and standing in the international community.
On the occasion of the launching of the King Sejong, we need to confirm the direction and principles of our military’s strategy, then develop them even more.
To do this, we need to draw up a national consensus to change our focus from the security of the Korean Peninsula to the events of the outside world.
We also need to talk to our neighboring countries, so they have some understanding of why we are building up the military. We must assure them that Korea’s military strength will not only contribute to the stability of the Korean Peninsula, but also to international peace. In order to obtain that trust from our neighboring countries, we should prepare and maintain guidelines to keep military secrets intact, while unfolding careful diplomatic activities at a military level.
In that sense, we should refrain from publicizing the military capability of the King Sejong excessively.
Some media outlets reported that “The King Sejong is equipped with a three-fold radar protection system. Lockheed Martin, a U.S.-based advanced technology company which drew the architectural design of the ship’s arsenal, has proposed a plan to get building orders for Aegis-class destroyers.” Will these reports be advantageous to our national interests?
The United States has even enacted a law prohibiting export of F-22 fighters to other countries until 2015. They want to keep private companies involved in the development of the next-generation fighter plane from leaking technologies they acquired in the development process for their own corporate interests.
This is not a time to brag about the military maneuverability of the King Sejong, or boost people’s pride by mentioning the possibilities of export of warships, or show off Korea’s high-tech power.
Instead, we must redouble our efforts to protect the defense industrial technologies we have acquired in the process of building the ship, as well as other strategic secrets, from leaking out.
Paul Kennedy, the author of “The Rise and the Fall of the Great Powers,” said countries that build up their military power above their national capacity will inevitably fall.
The former Soviet Union and North Korea are models of countries that spent too much to build up their militaries.
The strategic task ahead of South Korea, after the launching of the King Sejong, is to maintain its economic growth potential and draw the national consensus needed to arm the country with an adequate level of military power.
*The writer is the head of the Defense Information Studies at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Baek Seung-joo