Get the right fighterKorea’s ambitious fighter jet procurement project, known as F-X III, is being delayed again. A special committee for national defense has decided not to choose Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle - the only bidder that met our government’s price cap - after considering comprehensive aspects of security on the Korean Peninsula. Accordingly, the F-X program is expected to be postponed for at least another year, causing concerns about our Air Force’s capability to confront North Korea’s worsening military threats. But the decision by the committee seems an inevitable choice as seen by committee members’ overwhelming opposition to the purchase of the F-15SEs.
The Ministry of National Defense cited a need to build a “kill chain” aimed at launching a preemptive strike at the North’s asymmetric warfare capabilities and effectively retaliate against its small-scale provocations as major reasons for the delay. The two goals call for fifth generation fighter jets equipped with stealth capability. The ministry pointed out that our Air Force cannot be an exception when our neighbors - China, Japan and Russia - all press ahead with highly sophisticated jets with strong stealth capabilities. Under such circumstances, it would be naive to introduce less qualified aircraft due to predetermined budget caps.
The latest development in the F-X program suggests the likelihood that Lockheed Martin’s F-35A - a bidder with stronger stealth capabilities that had to drop out because it failed to meet fixed budget requirements - will eventually be selected. Of course, the government can consider a mixed purchase of F-35As and F-15SEs. Whatever the case, the government must minimize the potential fighter jet vacuum.
After the F-35A was eliminated in the bidding process due to the government’s budget cap of 8.3 trillion won ($7.73 billion), the committee said it would consider raising the budgetary limit. Though it won’t be an easy job given the increasing fiscal deficit and welfare budget, the government must avoid a situation where it can’t purchase indispensable fighter jets for modern warfare. It must positively consider a re-allocation of government budgets - including the possibility of reducing the number of the new jets if necessary.
Our Air Force will have to use the new aircraft for a long time. No one knows how our security situation will change in 30 or 40 years, not to mention our future relations with the United States, China and Japan. Possessing fighter jets with lower capabilities than our neighbors’ will pose a serious security threat to Korea.