South Korea’s F-X Project and Structural Disarmament (Page 2 of 3)

Second, the ROKAF would want sufficient operational range and high-performance fifth-generation air fighters that can compete with regional equivalents (Japan’s F-35 and China’s J-20) in remote disputed territories of Dokdo (Takeshima) and Ieodo (Suyan Rock). But this high standard comes at a cost. Moreover, if DAPA decides to choose stealth fighters, following the lead of Japan and China, the maintenance costs will climb even higher, given substantial stealth coating cost.

Structural Disarmament  

In fact, the ROKAF is already starting to struggle with the heavy maintenance costs of cutting-edge air fighters. According to a Korea Times report which cited a senior air force official (speaking on the condition of anonymity), maintenance costs for the F-15K rose 10-fold, from 9.7 billion won ($8.5 million) in 2008 to 95.82 billion won ($85 million) in 2011, about the price of a new F-15K. This is natural given that the ROKAF itself only repairs 60 avionics parts. Yet the maintenance costs associated with the potential F-X III partners will be even higher.

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According to a parliamentary reply by Peter Luff dated September 14, 2010, the Royal Air Force (RAF) calculated that the cost per flight hour of operating the Tornado GR4 was £35,000, the Harrier GR9 £37,000 and the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 £70,000, while the German  Defense Ministry estimated last year that a one-hour flight in a Eurofighter would cost €76,000.

After the global financial crisis in 2008 and subsequent military budget cuts, Spain sold its 18 Tranche 1 Eurofighter combat aircraft to Peru, while those of the RAF are set for early retirement in 2015. Those decisions were made based on costs related to upgrades, but maintenance costs would surely also have played a role.

Maintenance for the F-35 would be similarly expensive. The international auditing firm KPMG estimated that the full life-cycle cost of the F-35s in Canada’s Next Generation Fighter Capability project would be $44.8 billion. This estimate covers the period beginning in 2010, with the government’s announcement of its intention to acquire the F35, and ends 42 years later with the disposal of the last aircraft in 2052. The report also estimated that $35.9 billion would be spent on future maintenance, which excludes development and acquisition cost.

The U.S. and South Korea reached an agreement on ROK war potential during a summit after the Korean War on July 30, 1954, which was codified in the Agreed Minute of Understanding (Appendix B). After further settlement in 1958, the ROK armed forces consisted of 565,000 soldiers, 16,600 sailors, 26,000 marines, and 22,000 air force personnel, for a total of 630,000 military personnel. Compared to the 450,000 troops just after the cease-fire, the number of ROK troops in fact expanded, and without question the mainstay of the ROK armed forces became the army.

In return, the United States pledged full-scale engagement in the event of a North Korean invasion, and offered a nuclear umbrella and strong air and information power support. This has contributed to successful deterrence on the Korean Peninsula, and compensated for the ROK’s inability to develop costly air, nuclear, and information power during postwar reconstruction.

Even today, with the ROK armed forces viewing North Korea as its most likely opponent – one that shares a 155-mile land border – the army remains the most important element of the armed forces. Indeed, the army accounts for 50% of total ROK military spending, while the Navy and Air Force get 25% each.

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