Pacific Strategy XIII: Re-Working South Korean Defense


10/27/2011 – In our discussions at USMC Yuma Air Station with MAWTS, one issue analyzed was the impact of the first 4-6 F-35Bs on the first operations of the Amphibious Ready Group.  This has naturally led us to look at the same sort of question for the CVN and for the USAF.  The most plausible roll-out scenario with immediate strategic impact seemed to us to be the insertion of the F-35As into South Korea.

The F-35 and its impact on defense modernization revolves around the fact that it is not simply a new tactical aircraft.  Rather, it is a flying combat system able to achieve new levels of connectivity and operational effectiveness.  The replacement of the F-16s with F-35As would lead to immediate changes in the air-to-air operational situation and would lead to a new relationship between ground and air capabilities.

This map view underscores why the impact of enhanced and more agile defense capabilities in South Korea has an immediate impact on the defense of Japan (Credit image: Bigstock)
This map view underscores why the impact of enhanced and more agile defense capabilities in South Korea has an immediate impact on the defense of Japan (Credit image: Bigstock)

In this interview, a former West Pointer, and then later Undersecretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology and the 21st Secretary of the USAF discussed how the deployment of F-35As into South Korea could effect operations and the re-shaping of the forces in this significant operational area.

Secretary Wynne: I would argue that you relieve the F-16s first and you conduct basically a readiness review. This to determine the military capability available. The Air Force is proceeding with what they call Golden Eagles to bring them up to the best they can be in a fourth generation sense, so call them Generation 4.5 F-15E’s.

But the F-16s become then the force of choice to essentially come back to America, be distributed to the National Guard as basically defensive fighters, likely a more advanced block upgrade from their current fleet, for CONUS or with the F-22s being distributed between Alaska and Hawaii for their mission space.

SLD: So by the first deployments of the 35 that really allow us to better manage a diminishing force structure at home, make better use of the F-22 deployments and we start with working the 35As with the Golden Eagles, so we’re re-doing the CONOPS of a 4.5 generation fleet with a fifth gen fleet, so we’re learning how…

Secretary Wynne: At the same time, you then have the opportunity to leverage through the Eagles and through the F-35s the air battle management of both. By the way, even though it wasn’t well advertised, the F-15 can easily integrate with the current state of affairs in the Army command and control, fire control, and fire direction system, and the Navy ship-borne missile systems just as easily as the 35. It just can’t pick up the targets as clearly.

SLD: So you start by bringing those two airplanes together.

Secretary Wynne: Right.

SLD: And you’re figuring out the new CONOPS and you’re starting from the beginning to lay a new foundation for fire control and sensor integration with the air fleet.

Secretary Wynne: That’s right, this will define jointness.

SLD: So in round one, including the Eagles as well as the 35s, but the 35s providing a broader spectrum capability, more comprehensive capability than the Eagles so that they’re integrating the Eagles into the 35A approach, the two together are starting a different integration process with the offshore forces and the Army forces, so a process of change is generated to provide for more capability within a very difficult Area of Operation.

Secretary Wynne: And don’t forget that the Republic of Korea Air Force is very well trained, is very well positioned and flies F-16s, which historically have been able to take targets from the F-15s anyway so they can easily take targets from the F-35 just as well.

And as they have kept up with our deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, understand the concept of ground commanders and share, by the way, our command and control facilities, so they have a ground command and air operation center within the borders of the peninsula south.

SLD: So in addition what you’re doing is you’re starting from day one integration with a coalition partner using legacy aircraft and you’re working overall the 15/16s and the Korean planes into a different kind of command and control CONOPS.

Secretary Wynne: Absolutely, and the F-16s, though you’ve relieved them, that does not mean that you’ve discarded them. They are returned to the National Guard or they’re returned to the Air Forces in CONUS and become a ready reserve and at the same time, the pilot force can then become overt trainers, if you will, to guide the Republic of Korea Air Force to fully integrate with the American Air Force, which they’re doing a masterful job of now.

SLD: But now you’re doing this from the foundation of a “pull function.” You’re taking the new aircraft and driving change.

Secretary Wynne: That’s right.

The Transition in Flight (Credit Photo: Lockheed Martin)The Transition in Flight (Credit Photo: Lockheed Martin)

SLD: You’re pulling people towards the 21st Century rather than just basically bumping along with 20th Century capabilities. And presumably, because you’ve deployed the As, you can also now begin to think about 22/35 integration with the rest of the fleet as well. You can bring 22s into this picture as a SEAD aircraft and can begin to shape an innovative new CONOPS in a significant Area of Interest.

Secretary Wynne: Exactly. And that’s why it’s very important because I think if we like anything in the construct of Northern Edge, although we’re getting some air integration because we are getting some internationals to in fact come up and play with us, but I think the real world atmosphere that surrounds the peninsula is about as real as it gets. It’s very well understood now because of the artillery exchange that occurred. It woke up the public both in the south and perhaps even in the government of South Korea and as usual air and sea integration are far more permissible, if you will, than massive ground forces.

Being deployed in that part of the world and being used in a real world sense, you can even look at and think about a rotating additional force squadron that essentially takes advantage of Australian training areas and rotates through the Korean Peninsula so you have an opportunity to use the training grounds.

You have an opportunity to integrate with the Australian Air Force, the Singapore Air Force, the Japanese Air Forces and all of the air forces in that region, and have them become knowledgeable and very realistic scenarios because one of the de facto missions of the forces in Korea is to essentially protect Japanese homeland and so they become surge forces for the Japanese homeland in a airborne engagement.

SLD: These aren’t exercises. This is not Northern Edge and the inclusion of the new aircraft which can grow over time in terms of the number of squadrons and displacement, so it’s real world. So let’s say that this process is three years. Let’s say it’s 2013 to 2016 where you’re doing this new deployment, you’re experimenting, you’re figuring out what to do.

Clearly in this three-year period, you want to demonstrate to the U.S. Army, and the Korean Army that this is a very different kind of aircraft — this is a flying combat system.  One can start thinking in the next three, four, five years about integrating ground assets with the 35As — your THAADs and your Patriots. Couldn’t that come out of this for the next phase?

Secretary Wynne: Yes, I think we should be mindful that the commander of the American or United Nations Forces is an Army general and that Army general has to update periodically the war plan that is the Korean Peninsula, but he has to update the war plan to the more modern equipment that’s available to both sides.

And so his war plan update has to involve very much the aspects of: How do you use in a surgical strike, how do you use in a massive strike, how do you use the forces to best effect?

And so it is not Army-centric per se because he understands very well that the American and ROKAF, the Republic of Korea Air Force, has to do a major intervention to slowdown any invasive assault, and in effect becomes his hammer to an army anvil in stopping such an overt assault.  This is not the French Maginot Line per se, but the line of demarcation, or forward edge of the battle area, is very well marked in Korea.

SLD: And so the point is that this is an Army general who because of the geography he has to protect, the nature of the forces he has to use to do the protection because of the nature of the threat should be open to the innovation of an A with the ground forces.

Secretary Wynne: This becomes an operational imperative. The nation’s one-third of the population is literally a day’s foot march from the North Korean border. He knows that you have got to essentially create a deterrent or a barrier to any invasion force because of the humanitarian mission of protecting the population of South Korea begins at the outskirts of Seoul.

SLD: And what this also does is get people to begin to understand that offense and defense are not separate terms. The As working with THAAD and Patriot is really about offense and defense. It’s basically you’re ability to maneuver in space because you have no depth.

That I think is a key point.  So the broad point would be: This is a software upgradable aircraft so in about three years you’ll be adding capabilities into the As and as you add the capabilities, you’ve laid down a very good foundation for getting the forces to work together and that collaboration works then with the software to create new capabilities over the decade ahead.

Secretary Wynne: Well the most interesting thing about it is as Apple is inventive because they have user participation in the development of the apps. What better crucible to design the future applications for the F-35 software than to have its overt participation in the development by the Army command and control, by the Navy command and control, by the coalition partner in the Republic of Korea Air Force and Army and these are the fixes that we need in order to conduct a better operation here on the peninsula.  In fact; why not use the facilities in Korea, rather than the facilities in the United States to both operate and develop our force capabilities.  In a budget conscious world, this would be ‘On the Job Training’ at its finest; and the complaints from both operators and maintainers would be crisp.

This is an ideal design as opposed to simply having sort of the American serviceman who are airman conducting the upgrades, you’re going to have full participation across the board, and I don’t know where else frankly you can get that kind of participation.

And by the way, involvement with the contractor software development group, here again because Korea’s a friendly environment, very high tech, Lockheed could literally put a group of advanced architects over in the country and work directly with that combined user group, so it really becomes a very interesting laboratory.

And the only thing you can ask yourself is: Is this portable? In other words, can this port to, for example, to any other exercise point? And the answer to that is: Probably yes because many of the air forces around the world that we coalition and partner with have as good electronic systems as the F-16s in the Republic of Korea Air Force.

The substance of the lab could be in fact ported out, or example, to the United Arab Emirates has a wonderful testing ground that they’ve developed for them. They fly in a combined air force, by the way, with the Saudis, the Pakis, so there’s a way to at least take the elements of the training and of course we have the Nellis Range and we have the Northern Edge where we could invite others to come who are uncomfortable practicing with the Koreans.

My sense of this is that everybody would be eager to learn the concepts of operation because the airmen are indifferent to strategic or tactical targets.

SLD: Your point is that they would innovate and enjoy the innovation very much.

Secretary Wynne: That’s right. They would innovate and they would enjoy the innovation and the question of then integrating in the long range strike capability is really a question of overt suppression and bringing larger payloads and I think there again having the ability to mix and match and having the long range strike airplane becomes a nice add on to a future fight where you need to have a deeper penetration on any kind of an exercise.

SLD: So by rolling in the F-35As to South Korea, you get immediate benefits to the country and to our partners. You get a much more effective deterrent structure.

Secretary Wynne: And by doing this, our partners will not feel ignored anymore.  Our diplomats will not feel as second rate as they do now. Our ability to negotiate from a position of strength immediately rises. Concepts that deterred the assignment of the F-22 to the Middle East because it would disrupt the diplomatic peace that we allegedly had over there are totally bogus and should be discarded especially when it comes to an active military sight like the Korean Peninsula.

SLD:  By inserting the F-35As into Korea, one is providing with a so-called future capability, immediate solutions to upgrading capability, which will be much more cost effective in terms of employment costs and deployment costs.  It also opens up the possibility as one integrates the ground and air forces, that one can have a much more lethal and smaller ground force over the next few years deployed in Korea.

Shaping a New Sensor-Shooter Relationship in Japan with Aegis, Patriot and THAAD will significantly expand the capabilities of all (Credit Photo: Raytheon and its PAC-3)
Shaping a New Sensor-Shooter Relationship in Japan with Aegis, Patriot and THAAD will significantly expand the capabilities of all (Credit Photo: Raytheon and its PAC-3)

One is opening up the possibility of real savings, much more capability, much more deterrent effect. You’re opening up the possibility for real defense reform that you talked about many times. This is a defense reform with higher capability, enhanced deterrence from simply introducing the As and the associated changes in the force structure over time.

Secretary Wynne: That’s right. The inherent technology that comes out of the coalition and combined user group will begin to push our technologists to bring the margin of excellence and a sharper edge to this military system and as well to our commercial enterprises.

One of the things that people don’t get is when the Indians fall out of respect for the American military equipment, they also fall out of respect for the American commercial cutting edge technologies. And by the way, in their countries, many times one leads the other. And so Americans, we see a distinctive difference between our commercial industry and our defense industries than from the perspective of our international competitors and many times our commercial partners, they don’t.

When we lose that cutting edge for our military equipment, our competitors and many times our commercial partners see it as a loss of our commercial edge and our commercial deal negotiators feel it whether it’s big power generators, whether it’s wind turbine blades, or whether it’s even the architecture of the next IC circuit, they don’t get that we don’t have it first and foremost in our military products.

SLD: Beyond the immediate impact you have with restructuring US and allied forces in South Korea, you have significant impacts on US global interests as well from introducing the three squadrons of As into South Korea.

Secretary Wynne: I think there’s another way to put it and that is that all of a sudden America may not be written out of the Australian defense papers. All of sudden America may not be written out of and ignored as the Indians pursue Russian equipment. All of sudden American power might not be as ignored as having Pakistan simply ignore our overtures to clean up their act.

It’s amazing. And by the way, the Chinese do not have to be the instant target. They don’t have to be declared as an enemy. In fact, I would foster them as a commercial partner, but I would also posit that absent the clear domination of the American military, the Chinese, of all people, do not understand why the American military is the recipient or reflect the technological superiority of the American commercial industry.

And the one industry that we have that is currently on the brink of collapse in America, one of the last remaining, is the defense industry.

SLD: If we think about Korea, this is an ideal area to shape a new CONOPS. The North Koreas  provide a large but linear force. The minute one starts throwing the As in there and then grow the numbers over time and shape the CONOPS, one is now inserting chaos into their military thinking. They don’t know what the US and its allies are going to operate. The US could operate offshore. The US can bring 22s from Guam.  The US now have multiple vectors to confuse their military planning and disrupt any kind of linear attack they do.

From a military technological point of view, this allows the US to get a big pause in their thinking about whether this makes any sense or not to go to war, which I think is not a bad thing either.

Inserting a chaos approach as opposed to just lining up the linear targets for the North Koreans would be a good thing.  That is why your Army officer might find this very, very interesting because you could get to the other issue that we’ve talked about a lot, an agile army. The As could actually foster a lot of innovation on the Army side on how to be more mobile, more distributed, and more agile. So I think there are a lot of gains just from a pure military point of view.

Secretary Wynne: The gains are really if you have a distributed shooter set, it’s chaos to start with because the North Koreans have a very linear plan.

In the arterially exchange, it was a very linear plan. In the points of crossings on the borders, it’s a very linear plan. The placement of their artillery pieces in the mountains depicts a very linear thinking on their part.  And what they can’t stand and I don’t think they have the citizenry support to actually stand a non-linear solution set.

So it will cause us to essentially rethink our whole game plan because it has to involve the surrounding terrain, the surrounding military where frankly we have to show the Chinese that we’re not planning on invading them and we will stop at the North Korean border. Korea is after all the last vestige of Yalta.

SLD: And they demonstration effect from doing this is very significant given North Korean relationship with Iran, so forth and so on. The strategic resonance from a very modest investment and a significant Air Force, Army, Navy cultural shift and working this hard, with the strategic impact on Iran could be immediate.  If they could see that this is a very different not just aircraft, it’s a whole different way the U.S. military is going to operate, you can get a broader strategic resonance.

Secretary Wynne: I mean you can’t plan for it because as you think about you can apply an ARG, right, I mean right in the middle of your fight, you think it’s an Aegis cruiser, it’s not an Aegis cruiser. This is an Amphibious Readiness Group with F-35B’s and they are ready to enter the fight and it’s coming in undercover of tremendous artillery fire from other Navy ships or aircraft.

It’s a very difficult problem to solve for our adversaries.

And I think the savings, by the way, in onsite maintenance and related aspects is significant as well. So you get defense reform, enhanced capability, a smaller footprint and increased savings.  What is there not to like from this approach.