[Outlook]Korea’s Navy sets sailA naval unit called Cheonghae that will operate in the waters off Somalia was inaugurated on March 3, after a cabinet motion for the deployment was approved by the National Assembly.
Munmu the Great, a 4,500-ton destroyer, will be the first warship to be deployed in the history of our Navy.
It will join the international effort to combat piracy and terrorism in accordance with a resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council.
The deployment has special significance for Korea, as the vessel will be working to secure sea lanes frequented by Korean ships over 450 times a year.
Our military has sent troops of various sizes and types abroad to conflict-torn areas including during the Vietnam War and the ongoing war in Iraq.
But this represents the first time a combat unit will be sent in peacetime to protect Korean lives and assets overseas.
Hence, the most important meaning that the deployment of the destroyer carries is the full use of our military competence in order to protect our national interests.
It demonstrates the government’s resolve to protect Korean interests anywhere in the world.
The deployment is also expected to increase Korea’s brand value in the international community by joining the global effort to secure the safety of the seas.
Destroyers from 20 or so countries, including the United States, Britain and Japan, have already been sent to the Gulf of Aden (where our Navy unit is heading) and the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea, under the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom and the international Maritime Security Operations.
By sending our destroyer and naval unit, we will be contributing to the development of the Korea?U.S. alliance by cooperating with America, which has led multinational naval operations in the area since the 9/11 attacks.
Carrying out operations in waters so far from home won’t be easy.
Although it is not a wartime operation, the duty being to guard civilian ships, the job is new to Korea’s Navy, which doesn’t have any experience carrying out operations in the open ocean.
The unit must conduct its mission of combating pirates in a new environment, and cannot receive direct support from home.
In Somalia, a country with a coastline of over 3,000 kilometers, piracy is a chronic problem. It is estimated that there are five pirate organizations with 140,000 members operating in the region. If pirate ships that are very familiar with Somalia’s coastline disguise themselves as coast guard vessels in order to carry out attacks, it will be difficult to recognize them and be able to respond appropriately.
In order to successfully carry out such a difficult mission, it is absolutely necessary that we improve our competence when it comes to performing joint operations.
Our Navy must establish a joint operation system not only with the U.S. Fifth Fleet, as has been planned, but also with other navies to share information and provide supply support.
We also need to build cooperation with other countries concerned, not only in the military sector, but also in other fields. The joint operation should combine the private sector, government and the military.
From now on, the Korean Navy’s most important task is acquiring the competence to carry out operations in the open ocean.
This means the ability to carry out joint operations with other related countries, as well as the competence to carry out an operation on our own if need be.
When our national interests are threatened at sea or abroad, our military must protect them by carrying out our own operations if such a situation arises.
In such a case, naval power will be the optimum means.
As the Navy has freedom, mobility and flexibility on the open sea, it can perform operations freely, whenever needed.
The invisible contest between nations to enhance their own national interests in the oceans began a long time ago.
After the Cold War era ended, sovereignty over islands and the border lines of exclusive economic zones emerged as key issues.
Along with globalization, forces that threaten security at sea, such as piracy, have grown greatly.
As such threats increase, the need for Korean naval operations abroad is also expected to increase.
It is necessary to protect sea routes in case of a war and to enhance the Navy’s capacity to conduct ocean operations to support our foreign policy in times of peace.
This is why Korea’s Navy needs to build an agile fleet with a comprehensive capacity.
The writer is a professor at Korea’s Naval War College. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Ho-sup