Koreas Is Caught in Arms Race Among Superpowers

      December 15, 2011 12:51

      The raging arms race in the region between the U.S, China, Japan and Russia has shifted from naval weapons to fighter planes. The Japanese government says it will select Lockheed Martin's F35 stealth jet as its choice for the next-generation fighter plane. Tokyo will apparently announce its selection later this week. It will purchase four of the radar-evading fighters in 2016 and deploy a total of 50 in stages. The total cost is estimated at W10.23 trillion (US$1=W1,156).

      Japan's decision stems from moves by China and Russia to deploy their own stealth fighters in the near future. In January, China completed test flights of its J-20 stealth fighter, to be deployed around 2018, while Russia will begin operating its T50 stealth plane as early as 2015. Japan is also spending W578.4 billion to develop a home-grown stealth fighter known as Shinshin, a project begun in 2009.

      At sea, China's first aircraft carrier went on a test voyage in August, and it plans to form an armada of three nuclear-powered aircraft carriers by 2020. Japan will begin building a 19,500-ton aircraft carrier next year capable of carrying 14 helicopters. The U.S., meanwhile, decided to station 2,500 Marines in Darwin, Australia, in reach of the South China Sea where China is locked in sovereignty disputes involving islands with Vietnam and the Philippines. Chinese President Hu Jintao ordered China's Navy to bolster combat readiness, while the country's state-run media called for the creation of a Pacific fleet.

      In short, the race has begun around the Korean Peninsula to bolster naval and air power and the ripples are being felt even in Southeast Asia.

      Korea's Defense Ministry plans to announce its choice of a next-generation fighter jet around October next year. With a budget of W8 trillion, a total of 60 of the aircraft will be delivered beginning in 2015. Korea cannot afford to compete on the same scale as the world's three biggest economies. The top priority of its military is to prevent North Korean provocations, but it cannot ignore the arms race that is going on around it. Diplomatic strategies are needed that take full advantage of Korea's alliances, combined with optimum military preparedness.

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