Military innovation

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Military innovation


Chae In-taek

A modern fable from the fall of the Soviet Union tells of a guard on a bridge.

A high-ranking official was passing by a newly constructed bridge and said, “Why isn’t someone guarding such an important bridge?” The military authorities sent a soldier to guard the bridge. By the end of his shift, another guard was needed to replace him. Then, a night guard and a weekend guard were added. As the number of guards grew, barracks were built and staff was assigned to provide food, clothing and building maintenance. An administrative team to manage the guards was created, and an HR officer and a commander were appointed. Support units in charge of communication, logistics, transport and maintenance were added as well as a medical team. As the unit expanded, military dogs and additional troops to guard the unit were sent. A radar unit, an antiaircraft gun unit and a ground-to-air missile were assigned in case of an aerial attack. A training facility and a soccer field were built to keep the soldiers fit, and the unit grew into a village. Soccer and tennis instructors were sent to train the soldiers. In the meantime, the guard was guarding the bridge day and night without understanding why he was on duty.

The classic allegory addresses the inefficient bureaucracy, overgrown organization and lack of innovation that preceded the downfall of the Soviet Union. Private companies refer to the case in their management. They constantly check if there are any unnecessary workers, unreasonable structures or inefficient systems, and calculate the cost.

While the military chants, “If we doze off, we will die,” companies say, “If we stop innovation, we will crash.”

Lately, South Korea’s armed forces are in a similar situation.

“The Korean military is in a difficult situation, and the fundamental cause is that the military has been neglecting innovation,” said a military expert who wishes to remain anonymous. “The best option the military can provide to save itself from crisis is to present a road map to become an elite force through innovative reform.”

Another military expert who majored in operations argues that the number of troops needs to be fundamentally readjusted, and civilian and military expert groups need to study the troop reduction and publicly discuss the topic. In the seventh century, Sui China, which had 1.13 million troops and twice as many civilians transporting food, lost to Goguryeo. Tang China laid siege on Anshi, but was driven away by Goguryeo, which had only a third to a 10th the troops. He said the secret to victory is the ratio of support troops to combat troops. The ratio between the combat troops and support troops of the Sui and Tang army was 1 to 4, while the ratio for the Goguryeo forces was 4 to 1, and that’s why Goguryeo could stand against the enormous army. He points out that the structure of South Korean’s forces is similar to those of Sui and Tang China.

“Non-combat jobs such as cooking and clothing should be outsourced to the civilian sector as much as possible,” he said, “and the system should be overhauled to recalculate the necessary number of troops.”

In fact, South Korean forces face a crisis. After a soldier died due to intramilitary violence, the military became a target of criticism. Efforts in other areas are ignored and its mistakes amplified. And angry public sentiment raises the need to switch from conscription to a volunteer system. Opponents argue the volunteer system would not be able to meet the demands and would incur astronomical costs. The military already complains that the reduction of the service period already has caused a shortage of troops. Also, it is hard to maintain troop quality when most draftees are classified to serve on active duty. That’s why outsourcing supplementary jobs and concentrating on combat troops would resolve the problem.

In order to work on military reform, understanding and support from the National Assembly is necessary. Recently, a plan to outsource the PX organization and utilize its thousands of troops for combat duties was proposed. However, the National Assembly is not processing the bill because small and midsize businesses supply post exchanges. It is a case of delaying reform and demanding sacrifice to satisfy non-military interests.

The military once was a place to consume surplus goods from the civilian sector. When onions are overproduced, soldiers were given more onions. When the foot-and-mouth disease or avian influenza prevails, the soldiers consume more pork and chicken. Some politicians hinder military reform by treating soldiers as a mass consumer of meals. Without reform, the military will only grow unhealthily obese.

Then national security and defense will pay the price.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 14, Page 28

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Chae In-taek

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