S. Korea to drastically increase national defense spending

Posted on : 2019-08-15 15:36 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Critics point contradictions with Moon’s Korea Peninsula peace process
A naval officer poses for a family photo before the ROKS Kang Gam Chan
A naval officer poses for a family photo before the ROKS Kang Gam Chan

During the five years from 2020 through 2024, 290.5 trillion won (US$239.06 billion) will be spent on South Korea’s national defense, representing a 7.1% annual increase. That’s projected to cause the country’s defense spending to top 50 trillion won (US$41.05 billion) for the first time next year. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) says that more money is needed to counter the threat posed by North Korea’s nukes and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), as well as to power operations around the Korean Peninsula and gain key military capabilities needed to facilitate the handover of wartime operational control (OPCON) over the South Korean military, which currently resides with the US. But critics say that the higher spending is at odds with President Moon Jae-in efforts to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.

According to the mid-term defense plan for 2020-2024 released by the MND on Aug. 14, a total of 290.5 trillion won will be spent on improving defense capabilities and the operation of military assets over the next five years. That’s nearly 20 trillion won (US$16.46 billion) more than the previous plan (for 2019-2023), released at the beginning of the year. A number of substantial projects have been added to the MND’s lineup: it’s placing orders for the construction of a multipurpose 30,000-ton transport ship that could carry vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fighters and an arsenal ship designed to provide supporting fire for ground troops, as well as electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warheads, which fry the electronics inside enemy weapons. These projects, one military expert said, “illustrate the acceleration of the arms race in Northeast Asia.”

The Ministry will also be spending 34.1 trillion won (US$28.07 billion) on acquiring strategic deterrence to counter the threat of North Korea’s WMDs. That money will go toward improving South Korea’s ability to monitor the Korean Peninsula by pushing forward the timeline for launching a reconnaissance satellite; acquiring more of the Hyunmoo and Haeseong precision-guided missiles to enhance the ability to hit strategic targets; and boosting the ability of the Patriot and Cheomae-II to shoot down incoming missiles. “We will be upgrading the performance of our ballistic missile operation and control center to achieve a more than eightfold improvement in our ability to deal with targets simultaneously and to more than double our ability to connect with other detection and interception systems,” the MND said.

Some 56.6 trillion won (US$46.58 billion) will be spent on acquiring key military capabilities and to enable operations around the Korean Peninsula. More Aegis-class destroyers and 3,000-ton submarines will be deployed to strengthen operational capability at sea, and additional large transport planes will be acquired to protect citizens and advance the national interest. The MND is also considering a package deal in which South Korea would give Spain some T-50 advanced training aircraft in exchange for some Airbus A-400M Atlas transport aircrafts. Conceptual development of the large multipurpose transport ship that could function as a carrier will begin next year, with deployment slated for the early 2030s. Sources in the military say that this transport ship could serve as a base of operations for a wing of 20 F-35B VTOL fighters.

The arsenal ship, which would provide fire support for ground forces, will be built using South Korean technology. The ship, which will likely be modeled on the locally produced KDX-II destroyer (4,000-5,000 tons), will be loaded with a large number of precision-guided weapons, including ship-to-ground missiles, for hitting ground targets. It’s expected to begin its mission in the late 2020s.

The MND will also develop non-lethal weapons systems including “blackout bombs,” which can shut down the power grid, and EMPs, which can interfere with weapons’ electronic components. According to the MND, such non-lethal weapon systems can reduce the enemy’s ability to keep fighting while reducing the loss of life.

By Yoo Kang-moon, senior staff writer

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