It was revealed that hundreds of thousands of defective sweat sets and berets had been provided to South Korean soldiers for years. Recently, the poor meal provision for soldiers during COVID-19 quarantine raised an issue, and Minister of National Defense Seo Wook had to apologize and announce improvement measures. This time, it is about defective clothing.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration began an exhaustive investigation of six clothing items supplied to the military last year upon the inquiry of Yoon Ju-kyeong, a member of the People Power Party. It turned out that three items – sweat sets for spring and fall, sweat sets for summer, and berets – procured from eight suppliers were made of low-quality fabric below criteria. The sweat set for spring and summer quickly changes in color and shape; the summer sweat set does not absorb sweat well and is easily torn; the beret’s waterproof function was below the standard. In particular, for the summer sweat pants, one of the defective fabrics had a moisture-absorbing speed of 19 seconds while the supply criteria are two seconds. This was why some soldiers prefer exercising in their personal clothes, not the military-provided sweat set.
Over 810,000 items worth 18.2 billion won were found defective from the investigation. Once the belt and other clothing items are investigated, the number and amount can increase. However, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration seems to deny any issues with regulations and procedures. It is because mass-produced and mass-supplied items, such as sweat sets, are categorized as “simple quality assurance type,” which means certified suppliers only need to submit their certifications to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration and the administration does not have the obligation to inspect the suppliers. It is a typical avoidance of responsibility. Does it mean that without Yoon’s inquiry there was no way to catch suppliers that used appropriate fabrics at the time of certification and later switched to low-quality ones for actual supply?
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration claims that it does not have enough human resources to inspect suppliers, but it is simply an excuse. It could have identified expedients of suppliers with a satisfaction survey of soldiers with sweat sets and spot inspections but failed to do so. First of all, a thorough investigation of suppliers of defective sweat sets and berets to reduce manufacturing costs is needed. In addition, those responsible at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration should be held accountable for failing to manage the supply process after signing a contract with companies. There should be no more embarrassing and shameful incidents regarding what soldiers eat and wear.