[Viewpoint] Stealth jets a must for warfare todayThe government plans to expedite the third-phase combat fighter modernization project to replace decades-old F-5 jets with new fighters with stealth capability by 2015. Advancing the stealth fighter aircraft plan - initially scheduled for between 2016 and 2020 - comes after China tested its first stealth fighter jet and after provocative military attacks from North Korea last year.
Some may question the need to precipitate a plan to upgrade air defense capabilities at a time when the economy is facing numerous challenges and social circumstances call for greater welfare investment. South Korea’s joining in the development of stealth fighters also may accelerate a race for arms enhancement throughout East Asia.
But the electronic warfare and arms buildup trend since the turn of the century underscores the fact that an upgrade with stealth technology is more of a deterrent necessity than self-indulgent profligacy.
Victory in intelligence warfare depends on how much and fast one learns about the enemy’s moves without being detected.
The ability to detect and strike ahead has been vital in arms modernization throughout the 20th century.
In battle zones of today and the future, the capacity to keep our capabilities indecipherable and inaccessible should be added to ensure the success of operations.
Stealth technology not only enhances combat capabilities, but is critical for deterrence.
By broadcasting a country’s capabilities to mitigate and respond to attacks, a government aims to deter conflicts and provocations from potential aggressors.
But such a strategy can prove futile if the aggressor is rash and diehard.
The more effective form of deterrence would be the display of will and the capacity to retaliate, sending a clear message to the potential enemy that its attack can exact retaliatory actions of greater proportion.
Some may criticize a defense buildup in an age of “smart power” as nostalgia of the Old Guard.
But “smart power” without support of sufficient hard power would be no more than brave words from the weak in self-denial. The smart power - involvement of strategic alternatives to military forces such as diplomacy and persuasion - is a concept to supplement, not to replace hard power (military engagement).
Hoping to deter provocations through soft means of dialogue against a military-obsessed North Korea armed with weapons of mass destruction would be suicidal. Such appeasement would only work if we stand on more or less equal footing with North Korea in military capacity.
We must also note that it is not only traditional military powers, but also countries of economic size similar to ours that all pursue upgrading their armed forces with stealth technology in preparation for the future.
But we must nonetheless employ balance and self-control in pursuit of stealth technology. We should not repeat the past mistakes of pushing ahead with ambitious military plans while underscoring potential threats from military powers that only resulted in triggering anger and resentment from the concerned governments and allies.
We need broad-scale debate and agreement beyond the military to decide on the scope and proportion of combining highly advanced and existing armament. We must first be free from overemphasis and from argument over the number of new jet fighters for procurement.
What is equally important is fostering specialists and training programs for efficient management of stealth fighter jets. New arms won’t be of any help if the resources are not run and powered by efficient management.
*The writer is a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
By Cha Doo-hyun