F-35 fighter jet
By Lee Tae-hoon
Senior officials of the Air Force expressed opposition Sunday to a recent move by politicians to delay the country’s plan to purchase 60 high-end multirole fighter jets to replace aging F-4 and F-5 jets.
They stressed that the country will suffer a severe loophole in its air defense capabilities if politicians decide to scrap or postpone the jet acquisition program ahead of the Dec. 19 presidential election.
“The Air Force no longer cares which of the three competing fighters will win the bid as long as the new jets are delivered on time,” a senior military official said asking for anonymity.
He noted that the Air Force cannot accept any decision that would significantly delay the country’s latest fighter jet purchase plan, code named FX-III.
According to the 2010 Defense White Paper, North Korea operates 820 fighters, whereas South Korea has only 460. Seoul is aiming at maintaining some 430 fighter jets in 2020 as the majority of the country’s 250 F-4s and F-5s are set to retire in several years.
Under the current plan, Seoul will announce the winner of the FX-III program by the end of this year and new jets will be delivered here from 2016 through 2021.
“North Korea will have twice the number of fighters in 2020 if South Korea delays the fighter procurement program due to political pressure and malicious rumors,” another Air Force official said.
It has been an open secret that the majority of Air Force officials have long wanted to have radar-evading fighter jets since the country decided in 2007 to buy fifth-generation, stealth aircraft in a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Air Force officials preferred buying Lockheed Martin’s F-35, whose radar cross section (RCS) is known to be equivalent to a golf ball, rather than other conventional planes.
However, they are now more preoccupied with filling a possible security loophole cause by a delay in the procurement program, rather than which of the three wins the $7.9 billion tender
Currently, the F-35 is competing with two fourth-generation jets _ the F-15 from its U.S. rival Boeing and the Eurofighter Typhoon from EADS in the FX-III race.
Some experts claim South Korea should purchase the F-35 this time as the country has no plan to introduce stealth jets for the next two decades, whereas neighboring nations, including Japan, Russia and China, have already developed or purchased stealth fighters.
“If a stealth fighter from Japan or other country enters Korean airspace without approval, hovering over Dokdo or other sensitive areas, we will not be able to detect them, nor counter them,” a pilot said. “But we have given up insisting on having stealth jets due to media protests and as political parties have threatened to halt or suspend the FX-III program.”
Rumors have been also rampant that President Lee Myung-bak made a secret deal with U.S. President Barack Obama to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35, in return for other favors, such as the extension of Korea’s ballistic missile range.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) waved two key operational requirements last year _ an internal weapons bay and the RCS size of a large bird _ because none of the bidders, except the F-35 could fulfill the requirements.