South Korea looks at technology purchases to aid in deterring North

South Korea looks at technology purchases to aid in deterring North

Felix Kim

The acquisition of new surveillance technology by the Republic of Korea (ROK) was among topics discussed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump during a meeting in early November 2017.

South Korea considers its need for such assets as the U.S.-made Aegis Combat System radar and P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft as part of a commitment to greater self-reliance in monitoring the heightened North Korean threat.

After the meeting of the two presidents, Acting U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Knapper spoke about the prospect of Seoul buying Aegis radar and the P-8A, according to Yonhap, the state-affiliated ROK news agency. Knapper emphasized the U.S. desire for South Korea to have “the best possible systems available to it” to deter North Korean aggression.

Choi Myoung-jin, a professor of Department of Defense Science & Technology at Howon University, matched much of Knapper’s enthusiasm.

“The biggest reason the military needs and wants such assets is because we have no surveillance satellite of our own,” Choi said. “But it is technically difficult to quickly develop and operate such assets of our own at the moment.”

Choi explained to FORUM that South Korea’s historic reliance on U.S. assets and technology has led to its current preference for U.S.-made surveillance tools to bolster its own capability.

Seoul is considering the purchase of six Boeing P-8A Poseidons, similar to the one pictured, to serve as maritime patrollers to augment its current fleet of 16 P-3C and P-3CK Orion aircraft, Yonhap reported. The deal has been on the table since plans were scrapped in May 2017 to buy and refurbish some secondhand Lockheed Martin S-3 Vikings. The P-8A is characterized as an anti-submarine warfare aircraft, typically equipped with advanced radar and a high-definition camera to spot and monitor underwater vessels, and identify heat signatures on maritime missions.

“Aegis radar” is a common characterization of the AN/SPY-1, a radar system made in the U.S. by Lockheed Martin, used by ROK’s Navy on its three Sejong the Great destroyers as part of the Aegis Combat System (ACS). The AN/SPY-1 is also used in the land-based version of ACS known as Aegis Ashore, currently slated for deployment in Japan to deter and defend against the North Korean missile threat. Knapper indicated that increased deployment of such radar in South Korea is under consideration.

“If we have more advanced weapons and technology,” Choi said, “it can be used as a show of force against the North, which can ultimately deter a war and also help us win in case of a war.  I think they will become a very important asset to our national defense system.”

Choi, however, cautioned about the strain to ROK’s defense budget that could come with such high-value acquisitions.

“It’s not an easy decision to buy such expensive weapons. Therefore, it is necessary to consider our budget limit and prioritize what we need urgently, and then take steps accordingly.”

Considerations beyond the actual purchase of defense systems must also be taken, such as repair and maintenance, training, supporting devices and infrastructure, he added. Bearing such deeper considerations in mind when examining potential purchases is currently a point of emphasis in ROK defense procurement.

“To know better about your enemy is essential to win,” Choi concluded. “But this kind of technology also needs a lot of budget and time to develop. It would be important for the government to help people understand the need for advanced weapons, and that’s what politicians should do. But given the current tension on the peninsula, many would understand.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.