DN - Defence Notes

South Korean defence budget set for boost

31st August 2017 - 07:08 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Hong Kong

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Alarmed by Kim Jong-un’s shenanigans across the border, Seoul announced on 29 August that it proposed to boost defence spending next year by 6.9% to a figure of KRW43.1 trillion ($38.4 billion).

This figure represents almost all the KRW43.7 trillion ($38.7 billion) that the MND had requested of the government in June.

However, the budget proposal first needs to be approved by the National Assembly before it takes effect. If it does get a green light, this would be the largest defence spending hike since 2009, when it jumped 7.1%.

Of utmost concern is North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programme, with the latest violation of United Nations sanctions being the launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan on 29 August.

‘Investment will be focused on the early establishment of the three-axis system to counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats, and the early transfer of OPCON [operational control],' South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) said in a statement.

The three axes, also referred to as the ‘3K’ system, are the Kill Chain (a pre-emptive strike system against North Korea), the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) network and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) scheme. Funding for the triad could be raised 13.7% to KRW4.3 trillion ($3.9 billion).

The complete three-axis system is to be fully operational by the early 2020s, although many elements are already in place. It is also required before OPCON is handed over to the Republic of Korea (ROK) Armed Forces. For now, the US retains command of all US and South Korean forces in the event of a war on the Peninsula.

Yonhap quoted an unnamed official as saying, ‘We are making efforts to advance the establishment of the three-axis system to the early 2020s from the mid-2020s under the previous plan’.

Funding has been allocated for five spy satellites by 2023, four Global Hawk UAVs, air-launched Taurus KEPD 350K cruise missiles, the L-SAM long-range surface-to-air missile and ballistic missile defence (BMD) early-warning radars. 

The L-SAM is a developmental interceptor that will be able to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at an altitude of 60km, which gives a greater interception capability than Patriot’s altitude of 40km.

The Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) had announced in April that it would procure two additional BMD radars before the end of 2017.

‘The project is to secure early-warning capability against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and to secure additional early-warning radars to detect future SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] operations,'  DAPA stated at the time.

South Korea currently relies on a pair of Elta Systems ELM-2080 Green Pine Block-B early-warning radars delivered from 2012 onwards. The MND will have to look overseas for its two additional radars as well.

The project is to secure early-warning capability against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

The Defence Acquisition Program Administration

Additionally, the MND is enhancing the performance of its medium-range Cheolmae-2 SAM (also known as M-SAM or Cheongung) to give it an anti-missile hit-to-kill capability. Later this year LIG Nex1 will begin series production that can intercept ballistic missiles at altitudes of approximately 20km. 

Operationalisation of the improved Cheolmae-2 was pushed forward by a year to 2018/19 in light of Pyongyang’s provocations. This hit-to-kill missile is a key part of the KAMD, alongside Patriots that are being upgraded from PAC-2 GEM/T capability to PAC-3.

The KMPR envisages targeting of North Korea facilities and leaders with ballistic missiles, artillery fire and even special forces. Thus, the KMPR portion of the budget anticipates six-round 40mm grenade launchers and enhancements for CH-47D Chinook helicopters for special forces missions. 

In all, the MND wants to spend $12 billion on defence capability improvement, a 10.5% increase from this year. A significant proportion of the budget will be dedicated to wages, particularly the rank and file. 

South Korea continues to heavily invest in and promote its local defence industries. The 2018 budget proposes spending of $2.6 billion on defence R&D and the defence industry.

Indeed, indigenous companies are rolling out a number of new systems. LIG Nex1 has unveiled an artillery-locating radar. Other programmes include a new 230mm long-range rocket and an unidentified anti-ship guided missile. 

Furthermore, DAPA revealed in June that Hanwha Systems was leading development of a new automatic C2 system, dubbed Command Control and Alert (C2A), which would enter service in 2019. More than 20 local companies and research agencies are participating in its development, and it will also link with the KAMD.

The C2A, which digitises information transmissions to give units real-time data, is indicative of a more self-reliant ROK that is attempting to develop military equipment independently of the US. Over the past decade, Seoul has imported an average of $3 billion of military equipment from the US each year.

The US Army’s deployment from March of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system has already garnered Chinese ire, but the US sees it as necessary protection against North Korean missiles. 

The broadcaster KBS reported in March that South Korea was planning a joint air defence missile command with the US, which would consist of three ROK brigades and one American brigade.

Whether the full defence budget request is approved by the National Assembly remains to be seen. Last year the government asked for a 5.3% increase but it received only 3.6%. 

However, the country is alarmed by the trajectory of Kim Jong-un and his ballistic missiles, so the legislature may be more likely to support it this time around.

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