SEOUL - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on his first visit to South Korea since taking office, will assess his ally’s preparations for taking control from the U.S. of planning against any North Korean attack.
South Korea is investing in missile defense, intelligence, surveillance and munitions capabilities before the December 2015 scheduled handover from the American command. Among the items on the potential acquisition list are Boeing Co. attack helicopters, Northrop Grumman Corp. drones and Textron Systems Corp. advanced anti-armor cluster bombs. The U.S. also has advocated the purchase of advanced missile-intercept systems.
“The big ones are what we have identified already and are working with -- obviously missile defense is a huge part of this,” Hagel told reporters on Sept. 28 en route to the region, when asked what improvements should be in place for the transfer that was postponed from an April 2012 target. Hagel said the timetable and any potential additional delays will be discussed.
Hagel’s visit comes amid a competition among U.S. and European combat-jet makers for what would be South Korea’s biggest weapons deal on record. The investments by Asia’s fourth-largest economy are part of an escalation in capabilities across the region, with Japan and China stepping up military spending and North Korea developing its nuclear-weapon potency.
South Korea faces the North over one of the world’s most heavily armed borders, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce.
Timetable in question
South Korea may not be able to stick to the timetable for the handover. Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin said at a parliamentary hearing on Sept. 3 that he doesn’t view December 2015 as the “right” deadline for the transfer of the wartime operational command, signaling his government would push the U.S. to delay the timetable. He didn’t say to what point he thinks the transfer should be delayed.