Defense spending boosted amid possible threats

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Defense spending boosted amid possible threats

North Korea has “prepared considerably” to conduct an additional nuclear test within a short period of time, according to Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo.

The minister on Monday spoke at the National Assembly as the ministry announced plans to increase its budget to build up capabilities to fend off possible nuclear and missile attacks from Pyongyang.

North Korea has three underground tunnels in its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site in North Hamgyong province, Han said, one of which is shut down and “two - based on surveillance - are maintained to be able to conduct a nuclear test if [Pyongyang] makes the decision to do so.”

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced Monday that it will inject 8.7 trillion won($8.03 billion) in spending over the next five years starting in 2016 for its missile defense system to protect against threats from Pyongyang. Of that, 6 trillion will go toward what’s known as the Kill Chain, an integrated information, surveillance and pre-emptive strike system designed to eliminate North Korean threats before they are launched. The other 2.7 trillion won will go into Korea’s indigenous low-tier missile shield, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system.

The ministry’s annual defense plan for 2016 to 2020 serves as a blueprint of short-term defense policies for the next five years. The amount allotted for the Kill Chain has increased by 300 billion won compared to last year’s plan. The five-year defense forecast is updated annually.

The total defense budget comes to 232.5 trillion won, a 7 percent increase on average compared to the 2015-2019 blueprint. The cost to maintain troops in Korea is 155.4 trillion won.

“We plan to purchase six multi-purpose satellites to build the Kill Chain, the [Global Hawk] unmanned surveillance aircraft, long-range air-to-ground missiles and medium-range air-to-surface bombs,” a defense official said.

The South Korean Army plans on purchasing Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by 2019.

The budget allotted for the KAMD, designed to intercept North Korean missiles, also increased by 400 billion won compared to last year’s plan.

“Improving the performance of the Patriot missile and the M-SAM [Medium Surface to Air Missile] will be included in the 2.7 trillion won,” the Defense Ministry official continued.

The budget increase comes after assessments in Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang has reached a significant point in its efforts to miniaturize nuclear warheads to mount on its ballistic missiles. The Defense Ministry said it will carefully monitor potential missile tests, large-scale military exercises and any abnormal activity on and around April 25, North Korea’s Military Foundation Day.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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