[Viepwoint] Korea’s 45 F-15K pilots are cryingThe punitive bombing of North Korean coastal artillery by South Korean fighter jets has more significant meaning than at the tactical level. Each F-15K, the most advanced fighter-bomber in the Air Force, has a price tag of 100 billion won ($86.7 million). The fighter jet is the most notable weapon symbolizing South Korea’s remarkable economic growth and its superiority in the arms race against the North. Therefore, a retaliatory strike by an F-15K is a way to show South Korea’s will to use formidable payback for the North’s assault.
In fact, there has never been punitive actions taken against provocations by the North. In response to the 1976 Panmunjom ax murder incident, South Korea and the United States responded resolutely, but the “show of force” ended up being simply cutting down trees in the tense lookout area. If the victims had not been U.S. Army officers, the operation would have been even smaller.
Therefore, an F-15K bombing would become the first demonstration of South Korea’s firm resolve against Pyongyang. It would also show off South Korea’s courage to the international community.
At the same time, an F-15K attack would strike at those in South Korea who believe the Cheonan warship’s sinking was fiction and drew the country into an unwanted UN examination. It would also be a strike on those defeatists who were frightened and feared escalation, and on the blindly pro-Pyongyang people who opposed the resolution denouncing North Korea over the Cheonan incident.
If the president or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were strategists, they must have been waiting for such an opportunity. But President Lee Myung-bak and Chairman Han Min-koo blew the God-given chance to elevate the country’s position because they lacked strategy, historical calling and courage.
Of course, it is not an easy decision to make, yet it is not an impossible one either. The strike can be decided if the leader has solid conviction, strong will and cool-headed judgment. The leader and the citizens must have conviction.
We need to believe that even if a localized clash occurs in the Yellow Sea, Kim Jong-il does not have the willpower and capacity to carry out a full-scale warfare. And we need to believe that even if an all-out war occurs, the South will win as long as citizens stand strong.
Of course, North Korea’s long-range artillery units would cause serious damage in Seoul. Yes, the long-range artilleries, the Special Forces and the biochemical bombs may cause damage but that cannot decide the outcome of a war, because a modern-day war is determined by Air Force power and strike capacity just as the U.S. armed forces’ strike on Baghdad illustrated.
South Korea and the U.S. would dominate the air space south of Pyongyang and Wonsan soon after the start of a war.
And the joint strike capacity of the South Korean and U.S. forces is formidable. Reports indicate the South has 462 Tomahawk missiles on board three nuclear submarines of the U.S. Pacific Fleet alone. If they were launched, they would destroy the offices and residences of both Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, the Workers’ Party headquarters and the People’s Army command headquarters.
When all of this is bearing down - the F-15K and F-16 fighters, the F22 Raptor fighters flying in from Japan, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers - Pyongyang would be another Baghdad within a few days. Even if the North has nuclear weapons, it cannot use them because it would mean suicide for the North Korean regime. Kim Jong-il remembers the fate of Saddam Hussein, and he cannot afford to take the risk.
As long as we have the conviction that the North cannot start a full-scale war, the South can easily win a localized war in the Yellow Sea. The ROK-U.S. forces have overwhelming supremacy in the air and on the sea. F-15Ks can strike a target using the SLAM-ER from 200 kilometers (124 miles) away. But the North does not have such a high-tech bomber. The North Korean air force has some MiG-29s, the equivalent to our F-16s, while the ROK Air Force has over 160 F-16 fighters.
The president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have been armed with the conviction to order a strike with our F-15Ks. When an island village is enveloped in flames, what rules of engagement should the military follow? The F-15K is an arms purchased with the citizens’ blood, sweat and tears. And the purpose of the purchase was to use it at the time when President Lee and Chairman Han missed the chance for a historical bombing. At the Air Force base in Daegu, 45 F-15K pilots are crying. They are frustrated at the weak-hearted commander and are mourning the 46 victims of the Cheonan incident and the four victims of the Yeonpyeong Island attack.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin