[Column] Combined air defense is needed

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

[Column] Combined air defense is needed

Kwon Myung-kook
The author, Korean Air Force major general (Ret.), is a former Air Defense Artillery commander.

Five unmanned aerial vehicles from North Korea flew across the border on Dec. 26 and roamed around Seoul, Paju and Ganghwa Island off the capital region for five hours. The South Korean military failed to shoot down any. Military authorities apologized for failing to shoot down the drones due to concerns about public safety and vowed to quickly attain the necessary assets to prevent such a mishap. South Korea spends a lot of money to defend the country, which is technically at war with North Korea. And yet the military could not fully employ our military assets because it worried about civilian damage.

Air defense operations refer to an entire process ranging from detecting and identifying hostile aerial attacks — manned or unmanned — and enemy missiles in air space to issuing warnings and firing ground-to-air missiles to protect public safety. Authorities must carry out a thorough examination of our military command structure, our capabilities, forces and troops and their readiness against various air threats. Then they must take necessary steps after the failure to shoot down the drones. No progress will be made if it only upgrades weapons systems like the last time a North Korean drone infiltration was identified in 2014.

Air defense systems can only work in a unified command structure that can immediately issue an order to active and reserve forces on land, sea and in the air upon discovering an aerial or missile threat from the enemy. They must mobilize all available resources, including top-caliber assets of U.S. troops in Korea, as time cannot be wasted under such contingency.

The South Korean air defense command was transferred from the Army to the Air Force in 1991. But the defense system in three-dimensional air space is still being operated by divisions of the military in a two-dimensional structure. This restricts a comprehensive operation of ground, sea, and air artilleries in the same area.

The joint air defense command responsible for training in the essentials and devising a common operation manual was disbanded. As a result, it has become difficult to make a comprehensive decision by weighing the artillery use system, checking redundancy in missions and efficacies in operation. Since the Army, Navy and Air Force apply their own rule books and protocol for their military missions and seek independent weapons systems, budgetary waste is also inevitable.

Missile defense has become the primary focus of air defense systems since the missile threat from North Korea rose from 2017. The Air Force changed the name of the air defense command to missile defense command and relatively neglected defense against manned and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Since the inter-Korean military agreement on Sept. 19, 2018, drills around the border areas against manned and unmanned aircraft have been restricted, undermining the skills of soldiers handling air defense artillery while their conscription period had been shortened.

To solve these problems, the air defense brigade in the Army and the missile defense command in the Air Force should come under one command, except for the air defense units of each division in charge of area defense. In the longer-run, all the air defense artillery assets across the country should be united under the Korea-U.S. joint command.

As in the past when the South Korean military got hold of an Antonov An-2 North Korea aircraft to train soldiers against drone attacks from the enemy, our military authorities must secure North Korean drone types through various channels for training.

Instead of responding to unmanned aerial vehicles through our weapons system, training must become regular and the command system must be unified to maximize our capabilities to defend against drone attacks. Soldier vigilance must be kept up through regular emergency training, equipment management, and check on sudden readiness.

We must not forget from history that danger can arrive when war is forgotten during peacetime. We must not repeat the foolishness of taking makeshift measures after problems occur. The national air defense system must be revamped for a fundamental response.

The president should launch a national review committee to study the fundamental problems in the three-decade-old air defense system before it is too late.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)