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ROK fears North Korean ability to wage asymmetric warfare.

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 attache 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 Korea.

"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 attache 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 46,000 members.

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 situation."

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 attache 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 Raythehon 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 (AHX) 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 attache.

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, 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 wings.

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, experts said.

Nevertheless, defense attache 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 attache 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 USEK," 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."
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Author:Tiron, Roxana
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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