Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What About Us? (We Want Raptors, Too)

As we predicted last week, any discussion of an F-22 sale to Japan would be quickly followed by similar requests by other U.S. alllies.

And, right on cue, South Korea has made it clear that if Tokyo acquires the Raptor, then Seoul wants the fifth-generation fighter as well.

Japan's push for the F-22 aircraft has sparked security concerns in South Korea, which has already slipped in the regional arms race amid lingering threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.

On Friday, Seoul's Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo hinted that his country would review its plan to buy F-15 aircraft to seek to acquire more advanced F-22 models. Under a 2002 deal, South Korea is now procuring 40 F-15 jets from U.S. aerospace giant Boeing and is expected to purchase 20 more F-15 jets to replace its aging fleet of F-4 Phantom IIs.

In a press conference, Kim said South Korea would introduce the fifth generation fighter jets such as the U.S.-built F-22 and F-35.ants the advanced fighter as well.

Defense analysts say Japan's possible purchase of F-22 fighters would upset the military balance in Northeast Asia and prompt China to jump into the regional arms race.

"Japan's possible purchase of F-22s would tip the balance of power in Northeast Asia," said Kim Kyung-min, a political science professor at Seoul's Hanyang University

Such statements are often puzzling to those outside the region. Both Japan and South Korea are U.S. allies, with democratic governments and powerhouse economies. In theory, Seoul and Tokyo should have little to fear from each other, and few concerns about the weaponry that winds up in their respective arsenals.

But in Northeast Asia, old rivalries and hatreds die hard; in fact, they never die at all. South Korea has long memories of the brutal Japanese occupation, and worries about a resurgence of Tokyo's military power. Japan, on the other hand, sees a economic rival that wouldn't mind settling a few scores, given the opportunity.

That's not to say that war between South Korea and Japan is imminent--far from it. However, Seoul clearly views Tokyo as potential military threat; more than a decade ago, the South Korean MoD published a white paper identifying Japan as its major military "threat," after North Korea goes away. Beijing's growing military power may have altered that calculus slightly, but in a region where Seoul sees itself being squeezed between China and Japan, military upgrades on both sides are cause for concern, and enough to make South Korea rethink its fighter acquisition strategy.

Now, the challenge for the U.S. is to keep two of its most important allies happy--without fully compromising the revolutionary capabilities of the F-22. Describing that as a delicate dance would be an understatement.

Hat tip: Spacewar.com


jobob said...

How about this as a compromise. Sell F-22's to Japan and base a F-22 squadron in Korea?

Unknown said...

Don't think it would work..the Koreans want F-22s for their own Air Force. Once North Korea evaporates, they envision a decreased military presence, meaning the ROKAF will have to step up and assume even more responsibilities for defense of their country. A squadron of U.S.-owned/operated F-22s will not suffice, from the ROK vantage point.

MarkD said...

I'm of two minds here. I have no problem with Australia or Japan getting the F-22, provided we can keep the technology out of the hands of the Chinese and Russians. As you've noted, this would be a strategic counter to China. Keeping the production lines open is a good thing.

Australia and Japan have sent troops to Iraq. Perhaps that is the yardstick we use to separate our real allies from our nominal allies.