South Korea strengthens on global arms trade | Military News

Seoul, South Korea – South Korea celebrated its entry into the ‘elite group of fighter jet producers’ this month, unveiling its nationally-developed KF-21 Boramae to a blaze of lights and pop music and a laudatory support from President Moon Jae-in.

Moon praised the technology, economic benefits, military capabilities and national prestige that the development of the aircraft represented, a perspective widely shared in most reporting on the multibillion-dollar project to develop a fighter jet. versatile.

Any criticism of an arms industry known for its disproportionate budgets and its arms trade helping to destabilize regions or states in conflict has been lost with fanfare. Questions also surround the contribution a regional arms race could make to South Korea’s national security.

South Korea decided to develop its own advanced fighter aircraft over 20 years ago under the leadership of former President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his so-called Sunshine policy. which aimed to ease tensions with the North.

After several feasibility studies and the fight against technology transfer from the United States, development began in earnest in 2016. During the unveiling on April 9, President Moon proudly detailed much of the technology featured on the new aircraft, the “Fighting Hawk”, currently a prototype.

“The ‘EASA radar’ and the ‘infrared search and tracking system’ can quickly detect enemy planes and missiles. Its “electro-optical targeting pod” can precisely target ground targets, “Moon told dignitaries gathered in Sacheon, in the southeast of the country.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at the launch of KF-21, South Korea’s first local fighter [Yonhap via Reuters]

He explicitly linked the development of the combatant to national prestige.

“Today we have made our ancestors’ dream come true: ‘Protect our skies with our own hands’. It is truly overwhelming, ”said President Moon.

‘Crown Jewel’

Once it goes into production around 2026 – after six prototypes have completed more than 2,000 test flights – the fighter will replace the country’s aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s to work alongside the F-35s. 5th generation, and its existing fleet of F-15s and F-16s.

“These types of advanced weapons and fighter jets come with a lot of spectacle … claims about their capabilities, and a clear narrative of ‘look, this is really high tech, this is technology. really important, ”Pieter Wezeman of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told Al Jazeera.

“It creates the image of this genre of being the jewel in the crown,” added Wezeman, senior researcher on arms and military spending.

Moon also touted the economic benefits of the project.

Some 700 local businesses were involved in the development, creating 12,000 of what the president called “decent” jobs. Mass production will add 100,000 job opportunities and generate more than $ 5 billion for the economy.

“The KF-21 project will become a driving force that will make the aviation industry a definite engine of future growth for the Republic of Korea,” Moon said.

Indonesia has agreed to pay part of the development costs of the new fighter. The country’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto (left) visited Seoul earlier this month and met with his Korean counterpart Suh Wook. [Kim Hong-ji/Pool via AP]

But jewelry costs money, and critics say the fighter might not reap the benefits President Moon outlined.

Critics point out that the development of the aircraft alone cost around $ 7 billion, with an additional $ 9 billion needed to produce the 120 fighter jets that are expected to be manufactured and deployed through 2032. Estimates from industry have warned that development and construction costs could increase dramatically.

While countries are able to independently fund small arms and weapon systems for national purposes, big-ticket items demand that partner countries make economic sense.

The US-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project involves eight countries, South Korea is preparing to purchase 60 planes, some of which have already been deployed.

Lockheed Martin was cleared to transfer 21 key technologies to South Korea after Seoul signed the order, which Washington also linked to its commitment to its alliance with South Korea – a pressure tactic speculated in the press and later formalized on related security issues by the former American. President Donald Trump.

For its F-21 “Fighting Hawk”, South Korea asked Indonesia to subscribe to 20% of the development budget in exchange for 50 planes and technology transfers. The Southeast Asian nation is, however, behind on its payments, according to media reports.

“As soon as you get to the larger items, be it fighter jets, air defense systems or submarines, the internal market is unlikely to be able to support it in terms of cost savings. ladder. You have to produce more to make it affordable, ”explained SIPRI’s Wezeman.

Sixth exporter

South Korea has been on track to become a major arms producer and supplier for 20 years, rising from 31st arms exporting country in 2000 to sixth in 2020, according to SIPRI arms transfers database .

New aircraft will eventually replace South Korea’s aging F-4 [File: Jeon Heun-kyun/EPA]

Its trade involves armored vehicles, tanks and jet fighter trainers, which are sold, along with smaller tickets, such as cluster bombs and rocket launchers, in a wide variety of countries.

Moon said South Korea plans to export the KF-21 to potential buyers including Iraq, Malaysia, Peru, the Philippines, Qatar, Senegal and Thailand.

Defense experts noted that when Myanmar’s navy went to assemble a group of more than 1,000 nationals deported by Malaysia earlier this year, the ship that docked in the western port of Lumut was UMS Moattama, which was completed at a South Korean shipyard in December 2019.

The growth in the arms trade came as South Korea was one of more than 100 countries to have signed and ratified the 2014 Arms Control Treaty, which “aims to reduce human suffering caused by human transfers. ‘illegal and irresponsible weapons…’

Some countries, like Germany, already have suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia on the conflict in Yemen, but there is no indication that South Korea is considering doing the same.

Its Raybolt anti-tank rocket launcher has featured prominently in the fighting even as Yemen has become what the United Nations has declared to be the the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

South Korea announced in March that it would suspend military exports to Myanmar, weapons that previously included military trucks and tear gas, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook (second from right) inspects weapons at a South Korean arms fair last November [File: Yonhap via EPA]

The introduction of South Korea’s new fighter jet into the international market could also boost spending in middle-income countries that cannot afford similar offers from the United States, Russia and France.

“It creates a higher level of supply… and it becomes more attractive and cheaper to buy weapons, which then contributes to increased competition for the acquisition of weapons between states,” Wezeman said.

Consequences for peacebuilding

East Asia has seen military spending rise for ten consecutive years from 2010 to 2019, according to SIPRI, and critics of the fighter question the contribution of South Korea’s massive arms build-up to the over the past two decades to national security, and in particular, to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to the consolidation of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

the 1950-53 The Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, and North Korea is still viewed as the main security threat to the country.

North Korea’s conventional arms lag far behind South Korea’s, with Seoul’s annual military spending of nearly $ 50 billion, more than the North’s overall GDP, says Hwang Soo-young of the Center for Peace and Disarmament at the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, South Korea’s. the largest civil society organization.

Some say this disparity in conventional weapons is one of Pyongyang’s motivations for continuing to develop its weapons of mass destruction.

“As South Korea strengthens its conventional power, North Korea will have no choice but to stick to asymmetric power like nuclear weapons and missiles, ”Hwang told Al Jazeera.

South Korea also faces what is known as the “security dilemma” where a country’s spending on advanced weapons actually puts national security at risk by prompting competing countries to respond and deploy systems. increasingly advanced and costly weapons that reduce the time for verification and reflection as the armed conflict develops.

Some in South Korea fear that the country’s expansion of its arms industry will encourage the North to further develop its nuclear weapons to offset its relatively less sophisticated conventional firepower. [FIle: Ahn Young-joon/AP]

But for peace activists in Seoul, the main concern is the effect of South Korea’s burgeoning military-industrial complex on North Korea and the potential for inter-Korean rapprochement.

“South Korea’s national security strategy should end the division and confrontation between the two Koreas, denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish a peace regime through a peace agreement,” Al Jazeera told Al Jazeera. PeaceOne researcher-activist Oh Mi-jeong, condemning the stealthy nature of the plane.

“It cannot be done with weapons designed for preemptive strikes against North Korea and a regional arms race. South Korea already has enough fighter jets. “

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