For months now, Pentagon and service officials have said it will need all the help it can get from its international partners, as the department begins its swing from Southwest Asia to the Western Pacific. But that help won’t include outfitting the South Korean air force with a key, U.S.-built radar system.
Pacific Command chief Adm. Robert Willard stopped short of agreeing to equip South Korea’s fleet of F-16 fighters with the next-generation Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, which allows U.S. warplanes to track multiple targets during flight. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to receive the new Northrop Grumman-built radar. Aside from tracking multiple targets, the AESA can also be used for electronic warfare and intelligence and surveillance operations. And therein lies the problem. Handing over that kind of capability to a foreign military, even an ally like South Korea, is something that PACOM, the Air Force or the Defense Department is not ready to do.
As the services and DoD establish a foothold in the Pacific, they will have no choice but to lean upon regional allies to keep the effort up — especially in light of the extreme budget pressures the Pentagon is under. But until department officials and combat commanders can get over the fact thatdepending on allies means sharing sensitive weapons tech, things will only become more difficult for U.S. military planners.