Joint operability is the keyThe Ministry of National Defense yesterday announced a blueprint for ambitious military reform from 2014 to 2030. After the 2012 Basic Defense Reform Plan drafted by the former Lee Myung-bak administration, the government came up with a revised version, which is centered on sophisticated weapons systems and a reduction of troops. The plan calls for 110,000 Army soldiers to be cut from the current 633,000 by 2022, with no change in the numbers serving in the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, which stands at 135,000.
The Defense Ministry explained that the reduction of soldiers is unavoidable due to Korea’s alarmingly low birthrate. Instead, it will shift the focus of defense from numerical strength to technological edge. The ministry plans to make up for the loss of troops with more noncommissioned officers and reserves. Revolutionary advancements in military technology in modern warfare require a realignment toward rapid reaction forces.
We welcome the government’s decision to change the center of military operations from two field army command headquarters led by four-star generals to a corps headed by three-star generals. The corps will take up the military administration and command functions currently held by the two field army command headquarters. On top of new aviation and air defense units and the logistics support brigade, the Army will create an air support operations center so that corps commanders can directly request Air Force power during ground battles. Though at an initial stage, the systematization of joint operations between the Army and Air Force carries great significance. The two field army headquarters are about to be merged into ground operation command headquarters, and the number of corps will decrease from eight to six and the divisions from 42 to 31.
The basic plan has a transitional character because the government is reviewing the United States’ transfer in 2015 of operational command to Korea. Many challenges await us. Although the plan was made under the assumption of an annual 7.2 percent increase in defense spending, that figure has remained at 4 percent for the past five years due to soaring welfare costs.
Another task at hand is how to reinforce the joint operability of the Army, Navy and Air Force. North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan in 2010 explicitly showed how backward we are with interactive military operations. China and Japan, too, have hastily raised their military joint operability. The government must keep this in mind.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 7, Page 30