Moreover, ROK armed forces need to prepare for the approaching wartime command takeover. In particular, the South Korean military is keen on enhancing its surveillance and reconnaissance capability. In a briefing for President Park Geun-hye on April 1, 2013, the National Defense Minister said the military is mapping out “an active deterrence and will build an attack system to swiftly neutralize North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, while significantly improving our military’s capability of surveillance and reconnaissance.”
In short, a steep increase in the air force budget is not possible, given the armed force’s structure and its future spending priorities.
Yet it has been suggested that the initial procurement cost of 60 F-35s would be 12 trillion won ($10.8 billion) and, as the purchase would likely be through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, there is very unlikely to be any scope for negotiating the price. Under FMS, the US government procures defense articles and services on behalf of the foreign customer.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The total budget for the ROK armed forces in 2013 is 34 trillion won ($36 billion), of which 10 trillion won has been allocated to defense build-up. One can infer that 2.5 trillion won ($2 billion) has thus been allocated to the ROKAF. Moreover, the ROK Ministry of Strategy and Finance insisted that DAPA did not add the infrastructure building budget when it estimated the project cost. It explained that, because of the size of the new air fighter, the ROKAF could not use the existing hangars housing the F-4 and F-5, and that it would have to expand its runways and build new maintenance facilities. All this would require an additional 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion). Meanwhile, according to the KPMG report, the lifetime maintenance costs would be $35.9 billion (40 trillion won).
This massive outlay could lead to the structural disarmament of the ROKAF. According to a military white paper in 2012, the ROKAF had 460 combat aircraft. However, if the F-X project is pursued as planned, the air force may have to scrap the contentious Korean Fighter eXperimental (KFX) project, which means it would not be able to replace the remaining 212 aging F-4 and F-5 air fighters. If the entire F-4 and F-5 fleet is retired and not replaced, then the ROKAF will possess only around 200 fighters.
All of which is quite alarming for South Korea given the increasingly challenging region it inhabits.
Dr. Soon Ho Lee recently completed his Ph.D. in Politics and International Studies at the University of Hull, United Kingdom. His thesis was titled “Military Transformation on the Korean Peninsula: Technology Versus Geography.” Dr. Lee’s research interests include Asia-Pacific regional security (the peaceful rise of China), conflict prevention and resolution, and the security of the Korean peninsula (peacebuilding between the North and South).