Go to contents

Defense Ministry Announces Technology-Intensive Military Reform Plan

Defense Ministry Announces Technology-Intensive Military Reform Plan

Posted September. 14, 2005 07:46,   


The Defense Ministry announced a new military reform plan on September 13 that will arm the South Korean military with state-of-art technologies, and restructuring and reducing its manpower levels by 2020.

The Defense Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced the plan, called “Defense Reform 2020,” at the grand meeting hall in the Defense Ministry on the same day in the presence of major senior officials, including Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung.

What Does the Plan Include?-

Above all, the plan calls for drastic cuts in troop levels. Under the plan, the number of total military personnel will be reduced by 181,000 to 681,000 by 2020. Of the decreasing number, Army manpower reductions will account for 98 percent of the cuts, or 177,000. The Reserves will be halved from three million to 1.5 million, and the training period for reserve forces will be cut from eight years to five years.

Combined with cuts in military personnel, the military system will also go through a restructuring. The three-command system of the Army will be scrapped, and the number of army corps and divisions will be reduced from 10 to four, and 47 to 20, respectively.

Despite the personnel cuts, the combat capability of the army will be enhanced by two to four times by deploying state-of-art hardware and equipment such as unmanned aerial vehicles, brand new tanks, armored cars, and Korean-sourced helicopters.

In order to achieve the balanced development of the Army, Navy, and Air force, the Navy and Air force will streamline their command systems and phase in higher-technology equipment. The Navy will gain monitoring and attack capability in the seas surrounding the Korean peninsula by creating new departments such as submarine, aerial and mobile commands, inducting Aegis radar technology into service, and deploying Korean-sourced destroyers and mid-sized submarines.

The Air Force will expand its operating capability from below Pyongyang and Wonsan to the entire peninsula by establishing a new Northern Combat Command that will employ Korea’s new F-15Ks, tanker planes, and an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS).

The authority and role of the Joint Chief of Staff will be enhanced. The Joint Chief of Staff will be given mediation rights for the operational support and command of the three arms in order to maximize their joint combat capabilities. Also, under the plan, the Joint Chief of Staff will be subject to confirmation hearings starting in 2007, and hearings on the Chief of the General Staff of the three arms and the heads of defense contractors will be considered in connection with confirmation hearings of the government.

The ratio of officers in the military will increase from 25 percent to as much as 40 percent. For female soldiers, the ratio of commissioned officers will jump from 2.7 percent to seven percent, and the ratio of deputy commissioned officers will rise from 1.7 percent to five percent.

Defense Minister Yoon said, “In the past, attempts to reform the military failed or stopped for political reasons,” adding, “But the ministry will pursue reform plans while thoroughly reviewing the national security situation and reform process every three years.”

An Enormous Cost-

In order to fully realize the plan, defense budget needs an 11 percent increase every year by 2015, according to the Ministry’s calculation. In particular, the ministry needs 289 trillion won just to increase its combat capability; this cost rises to astronomical levels if overhead cost is included.

Ministry official Yoon said, “We’ve already asked experts about specific and prospective costs. There will be some difficulties, but those will be overcome. The budget problem is a matter of willingness.”

Some people are skeptical about drastic increases in the defense budget, however, given the fact that defense spending has risen just eight percent over the past five years, and that difficult economic conditions such as rising oil prices and the budget deficit could also pose problems. Against this backdrop, some have raised concerns over the reform plan by saying the plan could undermine deterrence against a possible North Korean attack by reducing military manpower levels.

People inside and outside of the military point out that the military authorities should exercise caution in carrying out a unilateral restructuring and reduction of military forces at a time when the North is increasing its conventional military capability and is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Sang-Ho Yun ysh1005@donga.com