In the South Korean Fighter Program: Is the Ministry of Finance Now the Ministry of Defense?

By SLD Team

The South Korean fighter competition is yielding interesting results.

The Eurofighter and the F-35 are being excluded with a developmental aircraft, the so-called “Silent Eagle” as the remaining bidder.

But the critics in South Korea — which include significant stakeholders in South Korean defense — are vocally challenging the decision process which has put South Korea into this situation.

What has happened and what is the way ahead?

In a piece which appeared on Chousun Ilbo, the interesting question is asked:

Is the Ministry of Finance and Strategy to Decide the F-X Fighter Competition and be Responsible for National Security?

We will summarize the article here for it raises a number of key questions shaping the future of South Korean policy and raises questions about why the United States should shoulder an additional air power burden.

The Chief of Staff of the USAF has made it clear that the USAF is transitioning as rapidly as it can to 5th generation aircraft.

Why should the USAF have to pick up the burden of South Korea staying in the past?

“The confusion in the F-X project is due to the absence in strategy.

As the government is only considering the budget to purchase a strategic weapon that is directly related to national survivability, introducing high-end fighter with stealth technology that can deter security threat from North Korea and surrounding countries cannot be done.”

Lee, Han-ho, the 28th Air force Chief of Staff, said, “DAPA maintained its pursuing self-protection rather than strategic thinking for the F-X project. It is not too late for the Blue House, Ministry of National Defense, and Joint Chief of Staff to make the decision for the far-sighted national security plan.”

The 17th Air Force Academy graduate have replied to North Korea’s “Rain of fire in Seoul” statement in 1994 Nuclear threat with “Rain of fire in Pyungyang” comment at the 19th combat air wing commander inauguration. He also has 4,000 flight record of various aircrafts including the F-4D Phantom, the main aircraft, the F-16, and the F-5.

“Air Force wants ‘5th-generation stealth fighter’”

The Air Force’s F-X project, which is the weapon acquisition business with the biggest budget since the foundation at KRW 8.3 trillion, is in dilemma. The budget is insufficient to meet the stealth capability criteria and the capability requirement cannot be satisfied with the current budget.

“When the National Defense Commission was held in National Assembly on September 3rd, Defense Minister Kim, Kwan-jin, DAPA Commissioner Lee, Yong-gul, and Air Force Chief Sung, Il-hwan have clearly conveyed the Air Force’s opinion to the committee members. If the 5th-generation stealth fighter is practically disqualified at the present moment, replacing the aged aircrafts is the next assignment in line to pursue urgently.”

During the final bidding process held in August 16th, Lockheed Martin’s F-35A, the only 5th-generation stealth fighter amongst the contending fighter candidates, and EADS’s Eurofighter, the sole fighter that has been deployed on field, exceeded the project budget and was eliminated. Only Boeing’s F-15SE, which is still in development, submitted a price offer within the budget range and will be reported to the DAPEC meeting for the project fighter selection this month.

Does the Air Force only want to maintain total of 460 fighters in their combat force storage regardless of whichever fighter is introduced?

“All Air Force pilots want a 5th-generation fighter with stealth technology.

However if the F-X project face difficulty, there will be wide gap in the combat power because there is no fighter to replace the F-4 and the F-5.

The F-5 fighter was designed to fly 4,000 hours and it is currently flew almost 10,000 hours, which is beyond its expected due. Even if we maintain 400 units for the next 40 years, we need to procure 100 more fighters in 10 years. In other words, 400 units should be replaced in 40 years. Young pilots in their 20s and 30s are operating a fighter that is much older than themselves.

When DAPA and the Air Force discussed about the ROC last January, shouldn’t have the Air Force more strongly demanded the stealth technology criteria?

“The Air Force did strongly demand stealth technology for the ROC because it wanted the stealth fighter.

However, DAPA requested to alleviate the condition as only the F-35 will be selected while the F-15SE and the Typhoon will be disqualified under the Air Force’s demands. If it was proceed as the Air Force asked, the F-35 will be the only fighter candidate to remain.”

DAPA could have acquired KRW 10 trillion budget

As the F-15SE remained as the sole candidate, it is sarcastically said that “The best man won the heart of the bride”.

“It is true. The F-15SE has improved radar and system integration than the F-15K, with partial stealth technology.

However it is reported that it cannot neutralize enemy radar and freely operate like the F-35. I doubt people will understand using a fighter fuselage that was first developed in 1970s in an era of stealth fighter.”

DAPA did not listen to Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) when it reported that KRW 8.3 trillion is not enough to acquire necessary capabilities back in 2011.

It also maintained the project budget when Lockheed Martin notified the Congress that the exporting cost for 60 F-35s might be USD 10.8 billion (KRW 12.0636 trillion).

“I searched for the reason why DAPA insisted that the price cannot exceed KRW 8.3 trillion. According to the Article 50 on ‘total project budget’ in national finance law, it is indicated that ‘The total project budget should be discussed with the Minister of Finance and Strategy if it exceeds the initial estimate’.

However, the enforcement regulation says ‘The budget can increase within 20%’, which means that the current budget can increase KRW 1.66 trillion more to total of KRW 9.96 trillion.

Unfortunately, the situation has come to this point.”

Didn’t DAPA sound the budget increase to the Ministry of Finance and Strategy based on this regulation?

“DAPA asked the Ministry of Finance and Strategy whether the budget can be increased by 20% from the current budget after all three contending fighters turned out to exceed KRW 8.3 trillion.

However, the Ministry simply sent a responding letter that said “Rejected” and DAPA had no choice but to proceed with the existing budget without a fuss.”

“Air Force’s opinion only accounts for 17%”

According to DAPA, the F-X project evaluation category includes cost, which accounts for 30%, capability for 33.61%, operation adequacy for 17.98%, and economic and technological benefits for 18.41%.

DAPA announced that it will evaluate the fighter based on these four categories but only the price was the decisive factor in the end.

“The Air Force can only attribute to the ‘military operation adequacy’ in the evaluation, in other words, only 17.89%.

KIDA decides the cost and capabilities, while DAPA press importance on economic and technological benefit.”

Which evaluation factor is more important?

“Of course the capabilities. Capabilities and cost have similar proportion in the current project, but I believe capabilities should account for more than 50%.

It is absurd to decide the project only with the cost. I mean, the Ministry of Finance and Strategy is not the department that decides the fighter and take charge of the national security as well.”

Stealth technology is useful at the beginning of war as it can strike the main target. However, it is also said that weapons, mobility, and close combat capability is more important for various mission execution.

“North Korea established the most dense air defense network in the world and hid most of the weapons and facilities in underground after it went in the Korean War without such preparation.

Thus, if the Air Force is planning to attack 8,000~9,000 North Korean targets, it should secretly mobilize the stealth fighter and strike surgically.

It’s the country’s delinquency of duties to expose its people without any countermeasures against North Korea’s asymmetric combat power like nuclear and missile weapons. To strike back at enemy’s asymmetric threat, stealth fighter, which is an aerial asymmetric combat power, is critical.”

Is it the F-15SE or total reexamination?

Former Commissioner Lee, Han-ho said, “There are two choices left for the Air Force; choose the F-15SE or reexamine the project entirely.”

If the project is reexamined from the beginning, 1~2 years of gap in the combat power is inevitable and there could be rumors about the conspiracy to select the F-35. Is the reexamination possible?

“Fighter expense is proposed by the Air Force, and the Joint Chief of Staff make a decision based on the combat power of Army, Navy, and Air Force service and North Korean combat power.

That is how the F-X project came up with 60 fighter unit. If the F-15SE is not selected, Boeing will respond, “Why are we disqualified when we satisfied the ROC and have the cost approved?”

If DAPA has the guts to eliminate the F-15SE, it might be easier to increase the KRW 8.3 trillion budget and conduct comprehensive evaluation.”

Is there a better alternative?

“There are two measures.

First, based on the national finance law that indicates that the budget can be increased by 20%, the project can steer into a different direction if the Blue House, Ministry of Finance and Strategy, and Ministry of National Defense start moderating flexibly.

Second, If the project can’t change its procedure, it should immediately start procuring 1 squadron (20 units) of stealth fighters instead of 60 units of Boeing’s F-15SE. We already have the F-15 model and the project is a business that should be continued to maintain the Air power, not close afterwards.

“1 hawk is stronger than 100 sparrows”

The former Commissioner said, “The stealth technology is important in a fighter. It is the same as 100 sparrows not being able to win 1 hawk.”

What is the main purpose of acquiring stealth fighter?

“The F-X project fighter will respond to asymmetric weapons like nuclear weapons and conduct anti-North Korea asymmetric air supremacy.

For this purpose, the fighter requires stealth technology that is rarely detected on enemy radar.

Stealth fighters will neutralize North Korea’s air defense network and put pressure on the Kim, Jung-un administration.”

There are concerns that the F-15SE is inadequate to respond to surrounding countries’ 5th-generation fighter combat power.

“There will be a new era of stealth fighter in Northeast Asia. Japan will introduce the F-35A, China has developed the J-20 and J-31 and completed flight test. Russia is planning to deploy the T-50 (PAK-FA) in 2016.

In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo decided to introduce 100 units of the F-22 Raptor, the most outstanding stealth fighter.

Japan is currently developing a stealth fighter called “Shinshin” and planning to conduct test flight in 2014.”

Former Chief Lee, Han-ho said, “President Park, Jung-hee input diplomatic effort to introduce the F-4D by requesting the US directly while North Korean Air power was pressuring South Korea in both quality and quantity back in the 1960s.

The Blue House Raid in 1968 and Pueblo abduction incident motivated the US government to sell its weapons. It was a decision similar to selling high-end stealth fighter F-22 to Korea in modern days.”

Former Chief Lee also said, “At that time, the F-4D Phatom fighter was a high-end fighter that has been newly deployed, and Korea was the third country in the world to introduce the model.

I hope Korea introduces a fighter that North Korea is fearful of with strategic insight like President Park, Jung-hee’s.”

Translations from the original Korean.







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