Ike was right
During the latest National Assembly audit, a number of corrupt practices involving procurement projects were disclosed and they were disturbing in the extreme. Both serving and retired high-ranking officers colluded with the defense industry to sacrifice the military’s combat readiness for their personal gains with the connivance of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
They bought anti-aircraft Vulcan cannons that did not come with detection capability, so it is impossible to aim and fire them at night. Such Vulcans are useless to deter low-altitude infiltration aircraft such as AN-2s.
The 486 computers installed in the combat operation system of the advanced destroyer Gwanggaeto the Great often malfunctioned. The Aegis-class destroyer Yulgok-YiYi lost its capability to defend itself from torpedoes because its torpedo countermeasures were corroded by seawater.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration paid 950,000 won ($899) for a 10,000-won USB drive and 4 billion won for the sonar systems for the Tongyeong, originally priced at 200 million won, totally wasting taxpayers’ money.
The hiding of records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on arms purchases and the fabrication of performance test outcomes were frequently done. The K-11 dual-barrel air-burst rifle project is still going forward despite problems of malfunctions and other critical flaws.
Among the military superpowers, competition is fierce to develop a fifth-generation fighter jet with advanced stealth functions. The United States’ project is the F-35 stealth fighter jet by the world largest defense company, Lockheed Martin. One aircraft costs more than 100 billion won. China is hurrying to develop its J-20, Russia the T-50 and Japan the F-3.
Korea, incapable of building its own, decided to purchase 40 F-35s starting in 2018 at the expense of 7.34 trillion won. Although the United States informed the government in June that engine defects were discovered in the F-35 and the Korean Air Force requested a redesign of the engine, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration went ahead and formalized the deal in September.
In a farewell address delivered at the end of his presidential term in January 1961, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” he said.
It was the first such warning against the corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex.
The Korean military-industrial complex that is riddled with corruption amounting to anti-state activities is unknowingly serving the interests of the U.S. military-industrial complex.
The U.S. military-industrial complex is like a necessary evil for the American economy. One third of its engineers and scientists are working on military-related projects. The top nine defense companies hire a total of 900,000 employees.
Although their golden days seemed to be ending with the close of the Cold War, they enjoy booming business in the conflict-ridden Middle East, the newly opened Eastern European market and the Asia-Pacific region, where the United States and China are competing to exert power.
The eastward expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organization became a blue ocean for the military-industrial complex, triggering the Ukraine crisis.
The military-industrial complex enjoys booming business when tensions rise and conflicts continue around the world. In Northeast Asia, they exaggerate the theory of China’s threat. They give hefty funding to think tanks to issue reports stressing the importance of increasing defense budgets, expansion of armaments and endless upgrade of arms systems. The expansion of the Guam base, additional deployment of B-1 and B-2 bombers and establishment of a missile defense system are not unrelated to the lobbying activities of the military-industrial complex.
For the F-35 stealth project alone, 39 congressmen supported it. They are all from the states where factories produce the fighter jet’s hull and components, according to a Hankyoreh newspaper Oct. 20 report. Eisenhower’s warning from 53 years ago does register in their minds. Promoting the interests of their home states and businesses is everything to them.
The missile defense system the United States is pressuring Korea to purchase is an expensive arms system. The center of the missile defense network is the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, known as Thaad. The deployment of one battery is estimated to cost one or two trillion won.
Instead of accepting the deployment of the Thaad in the U.S. base in Pyeongtaek, the Korean government proposed to the United States to receive information detected by the system’s X-band radar. It is an appropriate solution, but will Korea be able to overcome the pressure of the U.S. government, which is pressured by the military-industrial complex at home?
Procurement corruption should be treated as a more complex issue than simply the evil acts of some military officials and arms dealers. The military-industrial complex of Korea is a tiny cogwheel linked to much bigger gears abroad.
It is a fantasy to think we can separate the two to end procurement irregularities. The military-industrial complexes of the United States and Europe are out of our control, but we must look at the whole food chain as we deal with corruption and decide on big projects such as introducing the Thaad system or the F-35s. Those who committed corruption must be penalized with maximum punishments for their anti-state activities and to lay bare their relationship with the military-industrial complex.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 24, Page 35
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Young-hie