Assembly increases defense budget for 2016The National Assembly on Thursday approved nearly 38.8 trillion won ($33.3 billion) for the 2016 defense budget, though money earmarked for major procurement projects were slashed in light of a series of corruption scandals in the industry.
The Park Geun-hye administration initially demanded 38.95 trillion won for the defense budget, from which lawmakers cut 156.1 billion won followings reviews.
Despite the cut, the defense budget increased by 3.6 percent, or 1.34 trillion won, from last year, which is significant considering the budget next year for the central government was only increased 11 trillion won, or 2.9 percent, from this year’s total.
“The budget was cut from our initial request, so we will face some challenges in improving our arms capabilities and operating the military, but it is still meaningful that the increase was higher than the rate of the increase for the government’s budget,” said a Ministry of National Defense official.
“Although the increase is not satisfactory to meet our needs, it shows that lawmakers took into consideration the importance of the defense budget in preparing for the threats from North Korea.”
And despite the continuing controversy surrounding the country’s ill-starred project to develop the country’s first indigenous fighter by 2025, the National Assembly still approved the government’s request of 67 trillion won budget for the project for next year.
“President Park Geun-hye ordered the project to proceed according to the plans she received in briefings from the Defense Ministry and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration,” said a National Assembly source.
“Jang Myung-jin, head of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, even demanded that the budget be increased. So after discussing it, we decided to approve the government’s request.”
Codenamed KF-X, the program aims to develop new multirole fighters with more advanced capabilities than the U.S.-built F-16s.
The government will invest a total of 18.4 trillion won ($16.1 billion), including 8.5 trillion won for development. The project aims to develop 120 jets by 2025.
The country’s largest-ever procurement program, however, faced a series of serious setbacks after the United States refused to share technologies considered crucial for the jets’ development.
While keeping the KF-X budget intact, the National Assembly cut 24.3 billion won from a naval project intended to build vessels to detect and takeout mines under the sea.
“The government originally demanded 61.9 billion won, but a corruption scandal broke out over the contract to purchase sonars for the ships,” a source on the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Budget and Accounts explained.
“Because the project must be slowed down to restart the purchase process, we cut the budget.”
The National Assembly also cut 5 billion won from the requested budget for a project to improve the country’s KF-16 fighter jets, which followed a request by lawmakers that the Board of Audit and Inspection investigate the program.
The government also requested 10 billion won for the military satellite procurement program, but the National Assembly cut 8 billion won. In addition, the 9.9 billion won request for unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance was cut by 7.4 billion won.
“The budget for the assets on intelligence collecting operation, a key for Korea’s takeover of the wartime operational control from the United States by mid 2020, was largely cut,” a military official said.
However, the National Assembly did approve nearly 27.16 trillion won to go toward armed forces operations, including living expenses for troops. That amount is up 2.7 percent from this year’s budget.
“The number of soldiers to be enlisted next year rose, and the monthly salary for soldiers was also increased,” a defense official said.
BY SER MYO-JA, JEONG YONG-SOO [email@example.com]