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Moon’s five-year defense plan to spend 7% more

Special attention given to upgrading South’s guided missiles
Aug 15,2019
The Ministry of National Defense announced a five-year plan to greatly improve its ability to deter strategic threats from North Korea.

The 2020 — 2024 Intermediate Term Defense Plan announced by the ministry on Wednesday involves an investment of 290.5 trillion won ($239.4 billion) to augment Seoul’s ability to defend itself from military threats particularly from Pyongyang.

Every year, the Defense Ministry releases a five-year spending plan. This year’s represents a 7.3 percent increase from last year’s, when the ministry said it would spend 270.7 billion won over five years. South Korea’s total defense spending for 2019 was approximately 46.7 trillion won.

Around 103.8 trillion of the new plan is devoted to strengthening defensive capacities, and 34.1 trillion of that will be used to improve the country’s guided missiles to counter North Korean threats.

“While our short-range missiles are already superior to those of the North both in terms of quality and quantity, we will increase the number of precision guided munitions that can be fired from the surface, ships, submarines and planes, such as the Hyunmoo or Haeseong missiles,” read a ministry press release.

In addition, anti-missile systems will be enhanced to cover a larger defensive area. More ballistic missile warning systems and Aegis combat system radar systems will be acquired, while weapons like Patriot PAC-3 missiles or the KM surface to air (SAM) batteries will be deployed with improvements.

The military also plans to finish development of a long-range surface-to-air missile system (L-SAM), which is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles from the North in their terminal phase using a trailer-mounted S band AESA radar. Along with the Patriot missiles and KM-SAM system, the L-SAM will serve as a key component of the government’s Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) project, which is set to be fully operational by the early 2020s.

KAMD is one of three parts of South Korea’s larger domestic defense strategy vis-a-vis the North, along with the so-called Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation plan.

A further 56.6 trillion won has been earmarked to upgrade the military’s capacity to carry out operational responses and other key combat abilities in line with the Moon Jae-in administration’s larger plans to enact defense reform.

This will involve investments in so-called fourth industrial revolution technology, like the country’s Warrior Platform project, an initiative to modernize all equipment for combat troops.

While today’s South Korean soldiers are well-armed and far better equipped than their North Korean counterparts, Warrior Platform seeks to address longer structural concerns facing Seoul’s military in terms of the country’s declining birthrate and diminishing manpower.

To counter these critical challenges, military planners are turning to automation. The Defense Ministry said it plans to add a variety of different drones to its arsenal that is capable of carrying out tasks like bombing, replaying communications or transferring material, in addition to the surveillance capacities the country’s drones already possess.

The ministry said the plans also involved easing the operability of military equipment deployed to maritime surveillance and augmenting its Navy and Air Force. These include the deployment of new forms of maritime radars and a wholesale upgrade of its fighter jet fleet from older F-4 and F-5 models to the latest F-35A.

A further 23.3 trillion won will be reserved for defense research and development in fields like cyber defense responses or precision targeting, with the ministry saying it would produce key components for its military equipment domestically. Around 470 billion won from this budget will be devoted to changing the structure of the country’s defense industry from one mainly devoted to domestic consumption to an export-oriented model, the press release read.

In line with the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control, or Opcon, from the United States to South Korea, Seoul said it would spend 56.6 trillion won to enhance its capabilities to take up that leadership.

Joint exercises with the United States are currently underway to test the South’s capacity to assume Opcon, which North Korea has fiercely criticized in recent weeks.

The Defense Ministry’s announcement of its plan on Wednesday comes amid mounting tension on the Korean Peninsula following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang in the two previous weeks that showed off a new arsenal of conventional armaments.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]