Seoul, South Korea – Korea celebrated joining the “elite fighter-maker group” this month, releasing their domestic-developed KF-21 Boramae in bright light and pop music and Dazzling endorsement from President Moon Jae-in.
Moon praises the technology, economic benefits, military capabilities and national prestige embodied by the development of the aircraft, a view shared largely in most billions of project reports. dollars to develop a versatile fighter.
Lost in ostentation is any criticism of an arms industry known for its fleeing budgets and arms trade that contributes to destabilization of conflict regions or states. . Questions also revolve around the possible contributions a regional arms race can make to South Korea’s national security.
South Korea decided to develop its own advanced fighter jet more than 20 years ago under former President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for the so-called Sunshine Policy to alleviate tension. straight to North Korea.
After some feasibility studies and the controversy of technology transfer from the United States, development began, in earnest, in 2016. At the April 9 launch, President Moon himself The “Fighting Hawk” is currently in prototypes for the majority of the technology employed on the new aircraft, “Fighting Hawk”.
“These are ‘AESA radars’ and ‘Infrared Search and Tracking Systems’ that can quickly detect enemy aircraft and missiles. Moon told the dignitaries gathered in Sacheon, the southeastern part of the country.
He clearly linked the development of fighters with national prestige.
“Today, we have achieved our ancestors’ dream, ‘Let us protect the sky with our own hands.’ It was really overwhelming, ”said President Moon.
Once it enters production around 2026 – after six prototypes have performed more than 2,000 test flights – the fighter will replace the aging F-4 and F-5 squadron. of the country to operate alongside the upcoming 5th generation F-35s, and its existing fleet of F-15s and F-16s.
“These advanced weapons and warplanes are on display a lot… declaring their capabilities and a clear story about ‘look this is really high technology, this is real technology. important ”, Pieter Wezeman of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told Al Jazeera.
Wezeman, Senior Researcher of Arms and Military Expenditures, added: “It is creating an image of this kind as a gem.
Moon also touted the economic benefits of the project.
About 700 local businesses were involved in the development, creating 12,000 jobs the president has described as “good jobs”. Mass production will create 100,000 additional job opportunities and create more than $ 5 billion in the economy.
“The KF-21 project will become the engine that will turn the aviation industry into an undeniable future engine for South Korea’s growth,” Moon said.
But the pricier jewels and critics argue the fighter may not reap the benefits President Moon outlined.
Critics point out that developing the aircraft alone costs about $ 7 billion, an estimated $ 9 billion needed to produce the 120 fighters expected to be produced and deployed by 2032. Industry estimates have warned that both development and construction costs could increase significantly.
While countries have the ability to independently finance small arms and weapon systems for domestic purposes, large items require partner states to make economic sense.
The US-led F-35 Joint Fighter Project will involve eight countries, of which South Korea will buy 60 aircraft, some of which have already been deployed.
Lockheed Martin was approved to transfer 21 key technologies to South Korea after Seoul signed the order, which Washington also attached to its alliance with South Korea – a pressure tactic rumored by the press and later that was formalized on US security related issues before. President Donald Trump.
For the F-21 “Fighting Hawk”, South Korea asked Indonesia to pay 20% of its development budget in exchange for 50 aircraft and technology transfer. However, the Southeast Asian country lags behind in its payments, according to media reports.
“As soon as you get larger items, whether it’s fighters, air defense systems or submarines, the domestic market is hard to sustain economically on scale. “You need to do more production to make it affordable,” explains Wezeman of SIPRI.
The sixth largest exporter
According to SIPRI’s arms transfer database, South Korea has been on the way to becoming a major weapons manufacturer and supplier for 20 years, rising from the 31st as an arms exporter in 2000, to sixth place by 2020.
Its commercial activities include armored vehicles, tanks and fighter jet trainers, sold alongside smaller ticket items, such as cluster bombs and rocket launchers, to many countries. .
Moon said Korea plans to export KF-21 to potential customers including Iraq, Malaysia, Peru, the Philippines, Qatar, Senegal and Thailand.
Defense experts noted that when the Myanmar Navy gathered a group of more than 1,000 citizens deported from Malaysia earlier this year, The ship docked west of Lumut was the UMS Moattama, to be completed at Korea’s shipyard in December 2019.
The development in arms trade has taken place even though Korea is one of more than 100 countries that signed and ratified the 2014 Arms Control Treaty, “aimed at alleviating human suffering from illegal and irresponsible arms delivery … “
Several countries, such as Germany, already have Suspended arms exports with Saudi Arabia over the conflict in Yemen, but there is no indication that South Korea plans to follow suit.
Its Raybolt anti-tank missile launch system has stood out in the fighting even as Yemen has turned into what the United Nations has said is world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency in March, South Korea announced it would suspend arms exports to Myanmar, formerly including military trucks and tear gas, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
The introduction of new South Korean fighters in the international market could also spur more spending by mid-range countries that cannot afford to buy similar services from the US, Russia and France.
“It creates a higher supply … and it becomes more attractive and cheaper to buy weapons, which in turn contributes to the competition in arms purchases between countries,” Wezeman said.
Consequences of peace building
According to SIPRI, East Asia has seen an increase in military spending for the ten consecutive years from 2010 to 2019, and fighter critics question the contribution of the massive arms hoard. South Korea in the past two decades towards national security, and in particular, in creating an atmosphere conducive to peace-building on the Korean Peninsula.
The The Korean War 1950-53 ended in an armistice agreement, is not a peace treaty, and North Korea is still seen as the country’s primary security threat.
Hwang Soo-young, of the Center for Peace and Disarmament of the People’s Solidarity for Participation Democracy, South Korea, explains. largest civil society organization.
Some argue that this conventional weapon disparity is one of the motivations for Pyongyang to continue developing weapons of mass destruction.
“When South Korea increases its usual power, North Korea has no choice but to do it asymmetric strength such as nuclear weapons and missiles, ”Hwang told Al Jazeera.
South Korea also faces a so-called “security dilemma” in which a country’s spending on advanced weapons actually jeopardizes national security by urging Competing countries react, while deploying more advanced and more expensive weapon systems, reducing the verification time reflected as armed conflicts develop.
For peace activists in Seoul, however, of primary concern is the influence of South Korea’s burgeoning military industrial complex on North Korea and the possibility of inter-Korean reconstruction.
“Korea’s national security strategy should end division and confrontation between the two Koreas, denuclearize the Korean peninsula and establish a peace regime through a peace agreement”, PeaceOne researcher-activist Oh Mi-jeong told Al Jazeera, condemning the plane’s sneaky nature.
“That cannot be done with weapons designed for preemptive attacks against North Korea and an arms race in the region. Korea has enough fighters ”.