A buildup of conventional weapons by North Korea is a more immediate concern
to its southern neighbor than a potential nuclear threat, South Korean officials
said in Washington, D.C.
“The threat of the conventional military power cannot be overlooked,”
said Lt. Maj. Gen. Young Han Moon, the defense attaché of the Republic
of Korea (ROK). “North Korea has continued its military buildup and has
been increasing its stock of strategic weapons and conventional forces.”
Moon emphasized that not only are North Korean conventional forces far larger
than the ROK’s, but their artillery and missiles easily could strike South
“The most dangerous fact is that approximately 60-65 percent of the artillery
pieces are deployed forward along the DMZ [demilitarized zone], hidden in tunnel
positions,” Moon said. Compared to North Korea’s estimated 1.5 million
soldiers, the ROK has about 690,000 troops, said South Korean Army Col. Kye
Su Park, the military attaché in Washington, D.C.
North Korea is in a position to wage “asymmetric warfare,” said
Moon, because of the steady growth in its special operations forces and in its
capabilities to develop chemical and biological weapons.
“North Korea is believed to have more than 100,000 special operations
forces [soldiers] and hold a stockpile of 2,500 to 5,000 tons of anthrax and
chemical agents,” he said. That would make North Korea’s special
operations force twice as large as that of the United States, which has about
North and South Korea made attempts at reconciliation and tried to reduce the
military tension back in June 2000, when the two presidents met in Pyong Yang
for the first time since the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945.
“Much progress seemed to have been made ... to improve the inter-Korean
relationships,” said Moon. “But the naval clash which occurred last
June in the West Sea, and North Korea’s recent confession of the developing
nuclear program drove the Korean peninsula into a more serious and difficult
A violent skirmish between the two Korean navies on the Yellow Sea (West Sea)
left at least four South Korean sailors dead and at least 19 others injured,
when a North Korean vessel allegedly crossed the Northern Limit Line, a demarcation
on the West Sea established by the United Nations.
North and South Korea have been divided since the 1950-53 Korean War and remain
technically at war—never having signed a peace treaty. But North Korea
rejected the Northern Limit Line during the armistice negotiations, claiming
a zone of 12 nautical miles, instead of the 3 nautical miles set by the U.N.
As a result, the North does not observe the line, often sending fishing boats
and naval ships into the zone, said South Korean officials.
Meanwhile, South Korea has been bolstering its weapon acquisition programs,
spending 33 percent of its defense budget on modernization efforts. The total
budget for the ROK government for fiscal year 2003 is approximately $90 billion,
said Moon. Of that, $14 billion is allocated to national defense.
“Compared to 2002, the defense budget for 2003 has increased by $800
million, which is 6.4 percent,” Moon said. “The increase is a little
bit high because for the last five years, the average growth of the defense
budget has been 4.8 percent.” The average growth of the force modernization
programs has been 2.4 percent for the last five years, he added.
The high-priority programs are the Multiple Launch Rocket System, unmanned
aerial vehicles for ground forces, the Korea Destroyer project, the SSX (submarine
project for the Navy), a new fighter program for the Air Force, as well as a
surface-to-air missile program, dubbed the SAM-X, according to Moon. However,
he said, South Korea’s anti-missile program will be delayed, in order
to fund more pressing Army programs.
According to the naval attaché, Cmdr. Jim Hyung Kim, South Korea plans
to introduce major upgrades into its navy. In July, the government awarded Lockheed
Martin a $1.2 billion contract for three Aegis combat systems for the ROK Navy’s
three new 7,000-ton KDX-III destroyers. The Aegis air-defense technology can
track up to 100 targets, at ranges out to 500 km. Kim said the KDX III will
be commissioned in 2008.
In addition to the Aegis system, the ROK Navy is seeking new surface-to-air
missiles (SAM-X). Among the options being considered is a new series of Raytheon
Standard Missile II Block 4 missiles.
The F-X fighter is one of four major weapons procurement projects started in
1999. Others include a next-generation attack helicopter (AH-X) and an airborne
surveillance system (E-X).
The F-X program originally was planned for 120 aircraft, but subsequently was
cut down to 40, said Col. Hyung Chul Kim, South Korea’s air attaché.
In a highly contested competition, the Boeing F-15K beat France’s Rafale,
the Eurofighter-2000 and Russia’s Su-35.
John Pike, a military weapons expert, wrote on his Web site www.globalsecurity.org,
that Dassault’s Rafale barely edged out Boeing’s F-15K by a margin
of 1.1 percent in the first round of competition. “The U.S. model and
the French-built Rafale were very close in the first-stage evaluation of costs,
operational capabilities, technology transfer and compatibilities with existing
weapons systems,” said Pike.
The South Korean Air Force selected General Electric engines for the fighter
jets, said Kim.
The 40 fighter-jet deal is valued at more than $4 billion and now has entered
a second phase of evaluation, which would focus heavily on the fighter’s
interoperability with allied U.S. forces.
“The F-15K will reinforce the combined operational capability between
[South] Korea and the U.S. Air Force, and these aircraft must be the key assets
to obtain and maintain air superiority over the Korean Peninsula in case of
conflict,” Kim said.
Additionally, he noted, the F-X program is expected to help boost the South
Korea’s aerospace industry and “obtain the technology necessary
to develop her own fighter aircraft in the near future.”
The South Koreans plan to roll out the T-50 Golden Eagle, a supersonic advanced
jet trainer by 2005. The trainer is being developed by KAI (Korea Aerospace
Industries, Ltd.) and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, as the principle subcontractor.
The U.S. firm developed the T-50 avionics system, flight control system and
The first flight took place in October 2002. The T-50 will replace the aging
fleets of F-4s and F-5s.
Historically, the United States has been South Korea’s top arms supplier.
But that nation increasingly is developing its own defense industrial capabilities,
Nevertheless, defense attaché Young Han Moon, stressed that his country
needs continuous support from the United States.
Since the end of the Korean War, the United States has contributed to the defense
of South Korea. About 37,000 U.S. troops currently are deployed to that country.
Defense attaché Moon said that the stationing of American troops is
still “vital to the ROK defense posture” and help maintain the peace
in the region. North Korea, he said, repeatedly has demanded the withdrawal
of U.S. forces, known as USFK.
“They used tactics to urge the phased reduction of the forces, or sometimes
they suggest the conditional change of the role of the USFK,” he said.
“My government’s position regarding the USFK is firm and clear.
As long as a threat remains in the Korean peninsula, the presence of USFK is
crucial. Even after unification, we believe the USFK should remain stationed
in the Korean peninsula for the stability of the region.”
Moon said that he is hopeful inter-Korean relations will improve. “Lots
of progress can be made in exchanging military personnel and information, the
installation of a hotline, notification of and participation in military exercises,
the peaceful utilization of the DMZ, connection of the rail road and further
reduction talks regarding conventional forces.”