Addressing crisis in the military

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Addressing crisis in the military

March 26 will mark the fifth anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan naval ship by a North Korean torpedo off the west coast in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 soldiers. If the sonar radar system on the patrol warship had been updated, it could have avoided the fatal hit. The active sonar was manufactured in the 1980s. March is equally as important in remembering national security as June, when North Korea invaded to start the Korean War. But this month, a number of senior military officials have been carried off to prison on charges of corruption associated with defense procurements. And reports of corruption in arms deals have not ceased. It is a shame for the 46 seamen and diving hero Warrant Officer Han Joo-ho, who were sacrificed at sea trying to defend their country.

Former Navy Chief of Staff Hwang Ki-chul was the latest to be indicted for his connection in the purchase of shoddy sonar systems for the warship Tongyeong. He was the chief of the Naval Ships Procurement Department at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration that approved the faulty part. The administration bought 4.1 billion won ($3.6 million) worth of sonar systems, but they proved to be based on technology that had not been in use since the 1970s. Another former Navy Chief of Staff Jung Ok-keun received a prison sentence of two years in January for embezzlement and taking 770 million won in bribes from shipbuilder STX Corporation. He is also suspected of being connected to the Tongyeong procurement irregularities.

The 3,500-ton Tongyeong, completed in 2012, cannot leave the dock due to multiple flaws. Similar procurement suspicions have been raised over the Sohae, a mine-hunting vessel still under construction. Authorities discovered questionable quality sonar and mine-sweeping equipment in the ship and are investigating whether there was corruption in the selection process.

The Board of Audit and Inspection has been investigating Korea Aerospace Industries on suspicion that the country’s largest defense manufacturer has been handing out millions of dollars worth of gift certificates to military officials for years. The military is carrying out the biggest crackdown since the government’s investigation on the so-called Yulgok project in 1993, which sent two former defense ministers and four senior military officers to prison for taking bribes. The military does not seem to understand the gravity of its situation. President Park Geun-hye, the chief commander of national security, needs to consider strong disciplinary action against the military.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 23, Page 30

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