Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review #10 2019, translated exclusively for SouthFront; Edited by AlexD
The leadership of the Republic of Korea has identified the main direction of military development as the creation of a modern, technically highly equipped, compact Armed Forces capable of ensuring the security of the state in the conditions of dynamically changing military and political situation both on the Korean peninsula and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole within the framework of the national defence concept in the 21st century.
To this end, it is planned to achieve a level of combat capabilities of the national Armed Forces that would allow them not only to repel a sudden attack by a potential enemy (the Republic of Korea’s leadership generally refers to the DPRK as such an enemy), but also to defeat it. Central to the solution of this problem is the ground forces (GF) – the main and most numerous type of Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea (at the beginning of 2019, their numbers, according to foreign military sources, were about 490,000 people).
The GF are also a key component of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea and the United States military grouping in that country, under the control of the US/South Korea (U.S/ROK.) Joint Forces Command’s (JFC), established in 1978.
Ground forces include the following types of troops: infantry, armoured forces, missile forces, artillery, special forces, air defense forces of the army, army aviation (AA), engineering, chemical defense and communications troops, facilities, formations and logistics units, as well as military police.
The infantry is the main branch of the Armed Forces, which forms the basis of the joint arms associations, formations and units, including army and mechanized corps, infantry and mechanized divisions.
The armoured troops consist of separate tank battalions and companies that are part of the infantry (high-readiness, made up of mobilized troops), mechanized divisions and mechanized brigades, as well as individual tank battalions of the army corps.
The missile forces consist of three divisions of ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles, one division of Hyunmoo short-range ballistic missiles, one NHK-1 short-range ballistic missile battery, as well as two divisions of the nuclear-capable MGR-1 Honest John, are all part of the missile command.
The artillery consist of artillery brigades from the army corps, artillery regiments (brigades) of infantry and mechanized divisions, separate artillery divisions of 105- and 155-mm towed and self-propelled howitzers, artillery groups (regiments) of infantry divisions.
The Special Forces consist of airborne brigades and a separate group of special forces, which are part of the command of special military operations, as well as brigades (regiments) of special forces from the rear defense command, army and mechanized corps.
The air defense forces of the ground forces consist of a separate air defense brigade of the defense command of the metropolitan area, a separate anti-aircraft artillery divisions, subordinate to the corps, as well as anti-aircraft units of infantry (high-readiness and a reduced personnel) and mechanized divisions.
The army aviation consists of brigades and AA groups (up to five groups) under the operational command of the army aviation, as well as the AA group as part of the rear defense command.
The engineering corps consists of engineering brigades, subordinate to the corps, as well as infantry engineering battalions (high-readiness, made up of mobilized, as well as local troops) and mechanized divisions.
The chemical defense corps consist of separate chemical defense battalions, subordinate to the corps, chemical defense platoons, part of the infantry (high-readiness, with a reduced staff) and mechanized divisions, as well as all infantry and mechanized regiments.
The communication corps consist of communication groups, subordinate to the corps, infantry (high-readiness) and mechanized divisions communication battalions, reduced infantry communication companies.
The facilities, formations and units of logistics support forces consist of the command of the logistics support forces of the ground forces, command of the logistics support forces, as part of the ground operations command and the rear defense of the country, brigade and logistics groups in the army corps.
The military police consists of regiments from the command, army (mechanized) corps and divisions.
Personnel structure. The deployment of the GF is determined by the geopolitical location of the country, topographic conditions and the political reality of the existing division of the nation. The main forces are concentrated along the 250-km demilitarized zone, a ceasefire line, which is 4 km wide, serving as a border between the opposing Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea and the DPRK.
The general command of the ground forces is entrusted to the Commander, who is also the Chief of Staff. According to foreign military sources, the organizational structure of the GF includes: headquarters, 10 commands (ground operations, rear-guard, defense of the metropolitan area, special military operations, missile, operational army aviation, mobilization, logistics support forces, training and construction of military forces, as well as personnel), 8 corps, 16 infantry and 5 mechanized divisions, 14 separate brigades, 17 infantry divisions, as well as other units and subunits.
The Ground Operations Command (established on the basis of the headquarters of the 1st and 3rd Field Armies in January 2019) is the supreme operational association of the GF. It consists of eight corps (seven infantry, one mechanized), as well as other units and subunits.
The rear-guard defense command is an operational association of ground forces. It has a headquarters (Daegu), seven infantry divisions of local troops, two separate special-purpose brigades, a communications group and two engineering groups, a logistics forces command, an army aviation group and an anti-aircraft battery.
The staffing of the infantry divisions is made out of local troops and the mobilization infantry divisions is 30% of the personnel, and between 50 and 80% of the staff have armament and military equipment.
The Defense Command of the Metropolitan Area is responsible for the defense of the capital city zones. As a rule, it includes: three local infantry and two mobilized infantry divisions, a separate anti-aircraft and engineering group, separate chemical and sapper battalions, and a military police battalion. The command headquarters is in Seoul.
The command of special military operations is designed to conduct sabotage and reconnaissance operations in the country’s territory or behind enemy lines. It includes: six airborne brigades, a separate Special Forces group, two separate battalions (special forces and communications). In addition, the reconnaissance group from the command of the ground operations is operationally subordinate to the command.
The missile command is responsible for launching missile strikes on enemy military command and control facilities, ground forces groups and on enemy long-range artillery positions. It includes: three divisions of ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles, one division of Hyunmoo short-range ballistic missiles, one NHK-1 short-range ballistic missile battery, as well as two divisions of the nuclear-capable MGR-1 Honest John. The command headquarters is located in the area of Gyeryong.
The operational command of the army aviation is designed to provide fire support to formations, units and subunits of the ground forces in all types of combat, to ensure the landing of airborne assault forces, reconnaissance, adjust artillery fire, and the transfer of troops and military equipment. It includes two brigades and a group of army aviation. The command headquarters is located in Incheon.
The mobilization command ensures the development of plans, maintenance of mobilization readiness and monitoring the conduct of combat training activities of the reduced formations and personnel (mobilization of infantry divisions). It consists of a headquarters and five infantry mobilization divisions. Its headquarters is located in Yongin.
The command of the logistics support forces provides comprehensive maintenance of the ground forces. It has a headquarters, supply bases (consisting of food warehouses and material and technical property), fuels and lubricants warehouses, repair bases. Its headquarters is located in Daejeon.
The training and construction command of the GF develops proposals on the organizational structure of the formations, units and subunits of the ground forces, new forms and methods of warfare, operational and combat training programmes for headquarters, formations and units. It also cares for the training of personnel in educational establishments, and organizes the publication of charters, manuals, instructions and study guides.
The command is also responsible for the initial training of military personnel and junior command staff, the training of reserve officer graduates in civilian educational institutions, army officers before their appointment to higher posts, and the management of training centres. The training regiment is subordinate to the command (includes tank and infantry battalions, educational process support units). Its headquarters is located in Gwangju.
The personnel command is responsible for the selection, administration and distribution of human resources, welfare and conditions of military service for the army units. It consists of a headquarters, four departments (recruitment, planning, administration and distribution of personnel), a military personnel records and records management unit (archive), a culture and and welfare battalion, a club and a sports complex for the ground forces.
According to the degree of readiness, formations and units of the ground forces are divided into high-readiness and cadre units (with reduced personnel). The former are part of the command of ground operations deployed in areas adjacent to the demilitarized zone. The latter are manned 100% by the mobilization and local infantry divisions designed to enhance the Army’s mobilization readiness.
The army corps is a joint-arms operational-tactical association, which can consist of three to four divisions of high-readiness (infantry, mechanized), up to three infantry divisions of reduced composition, up to four brigades (tank, infantry, artillery, engineering, material and logistics), up to four regiments (special purpose, military police, communications, security), up to two anti-aircraft artillery divisions, up to three battalions.
An infantry mobilization division is a manned unit, staffed in peacetime with weapons and military equipment up to 80%, as well as personnel at 10-15%. After the mobilization deployment, the divisions actually become infantry and are used to carry out the tasks assigned to them.
In peacetime, local infantry divisions are manned up to 50-60% with artillery and small arms, and 10-15% personnel. They are designed to carry out auxiliary actions for the protection and defense of coastal zones, facilities and communications, mainly in the areas of their permanent deployment.
The infantry division is a tactical unit consisting of three infantry and an artillery regiment, three battalions (reconnaissance, bomb squad, communications), a tank battalion or tank company, four companies (ATGM, armoured personnel carriers, chemical defense, command), and a logistics support unit. The number of personnel in the formation is up to 15,000 people. There are battle tanks, 105- and 155-mm calibre howitzers, 81- and 107-mm calibre mortars, anti-tank guided missiles, man-portable anti-tank guided missiles and armoured personnel carriers of various types.
The mechanized division is a tactical unit, comprised of three mechanized and artillery brigades, four battalions (reconnaissance, communications, engineer-sapper and training), a staff company, a chemical protection company, and rear support units. The number of personnel in the formation is more than 12,000 people. The armament includes more than 100 battle tanks, 105- and 155-mm howitzers, 81- and 107-mm calibre mortars, as well as other weapons.
Armament and military equipment. The basis of the tank fleet of the ground forces of the Republic of Korea is the K1 battle tank. There are 1,000 such battle tanks and 484 upgraded K1A1/2. Deliveries to the troops of new South Korean K2 battle tanks (100 units) are also ongoing. To date, 850 out-dated American M48 main battle tanks (253 M48A3, 597 M48A5) remain in service.
In storage, there are another 400 American M47 main battle tanks.
Armoured combat vehicles (ACV). The Republic of Korea GF has a significant number of modern APCs: there are about 40 Russian BMP-3s and up to 500 new K21 IFVs, which are locally produced.
The armoured personnel carriers are represented by 1,700 K200 (Korean Infantry Fighting Vehicle), 420 American M113 (most in storage), 300 Swedish tracked Bv 206, 200 national KM-900 (copies of the Italian Fiat-6614, most in storage), 20 Russian BTR-80.
New wheeled armoured personnel carriers K806 and K808 of the Hyundai Rotem Company also began entering into service. They will eventually replace all obsolete IFV K21 series.
Field artillery guns. The Republic of Korea has 155 mm K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers. At the beginning of 2019, about 1,100 such self-propelled howitzers were manufactured.
There are also 1040 units of K55A1 155-mm self-propelled howitzers (South Korean licensed version of the American M109A2), 13 American M110s (about 100 more in storage). There are also up to 100 American M107 self-propelled howitzers in storage.
Towed guns: up to 1700 American M101s and their South Korean KM101 counterparts, 21 KN-178 (advanced M101) and 1700 South Korean KN-179 (modernized American BT M114) guns. There are 4,000 KM-29s, 1840 M-30s, as well as self-propelled K532s (on the chassis of the tracked Swedish BTR Bv206), K281A1s and K242s (on the K200 BMP).
There are about 150 South Korean MLRS K136/A1s Kooryong and up to 30 American MLRS M270/A1s.
The air defense of the Republic of Korea includes the new South Korean MANPADS K-SAM Chiron (114 units), about a thousand MANPADS (60 American Red Eyes, 133 Stinger, 350 English Javelin, 406 French Mistrale, 50 Russian Igla); more than 300 SAMs of South Korean design based on the ACV K200 chassis (140 K263A1 Chungun and 176 KZ0 Biho); 160 anti-aircraft guns (60 American M167 Volcano, 20 Swiss GDF-003 and 80 L / 60/70).
The army aviation units of the Republic of Korea are equipped with the American AH-64E Apache combat helicopters (36 units) and Cobra AN-IS (60 units), as well as multi-purpose and transport helicopters (130 Hughes-500D), 45 MD-500Ds, 37 CH-47Ds, 65 KUH-1s (Korean Utility Helicopter programme), 87 UH-60P Black Hawks, 100 Vo-205s, 12 Vo-105s (Vo-105 and -205 – German production), KUH-1 are South Korean-made, the rest are American-made.
Currently, the ground forces are armed with operational-tactical missiles Hyunmoo-I, IIA, IIB (up to 30 short-range ballistic missiles, range from 250 to 500 km), ATACMS and NHK-1, Honest John tactical missiles and Hyunmoo III cruise missiles (firing range up to 800 km).
The army of the Republic of Korea is manned by the General Conscription Act. All male citizens between the ages of 18 and 31 years are eligible for conscription. The service period of conscripts is 26 months. The training of privates and non-commissioned personnel is conducted in special units and subunits, as well as in training centres and schools of GF specialists, where courses in various military specialties are taught. The officers are mainly trained at the academies, colleges and command and staff colleges of the GF, while some officers are trained abroad, mainly in the United States.
Operational training. In accordance with the views of the command of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea on the types of wars and armed conflicts, as well as with the operational plans of military operations of the South Korea/US (ROK/U.S.) Joint Forces Command’s (CFC), the main content of the initial stage of a possible armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula will be the first defensive operation by the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea and the United States in the republic.
At the same time, the main task of the GF will be to stop the invasion, defeat the advancing enemy troops, retain the most critical areas and lines, prevent breakthrough groups into the interior of the country and create conditions for completing mobilization activities and transferring additional US troops to the peninsula.
In peacetime, the ground forces of the Republic of Korea ensure the improvement of the skills of commanders and personnel in command and control, planning and organization of military operations and their comprehensive support.
At the same time, plans for the use of formations in defensive and offensive operations are checked and refined, and the order of interaction with other branches of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea, as well as with the American group, is worked out.
It is planned that in the event of an armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the Korean Ground Forces will operate under the leadership of the South Korea/US (ROK/U.S.) Joint Forces Command’s (JFC), to which the American units located on the territory of this country (about 28,500 military personnel, up to 300 tanks and 200 armoured combat vehicles) are also subordinate.
With the completion of the strategic deployment of the United States-South Korean group, a counter-offensive operation is planned to restore the initial position of the warring parties along the military demarcation line. Furthermore, the development of an offensive deep into the territory of the enemy is not ruled out with the aim of defeating the main forces of the North Korean army, capturing key areas of the DPRK and ensuring the achievement of the ultimate goal of the war.
Combat training, carried out mainly in the form of tactical and tactical special exercises (trainings), is aimed at achieving coherence of formations, units, subunits, improving techniques and methods of warfare in various conditions, increasing firepower and special training of troops.
Special attention is paid in assessing the state of combat and mobilization readiness of formations and units. For this purpose, combat readiness checks are regularly organized with the withdrawal of units to field concentration areas.
The largest training events by the ground forces of South Korea are the Ssang Yong exercises and other complex mobilization command-and-staff training exercises.
The reform of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea is carried out in accordance with the Ministry of Defense’s 2018-adjusted “Military Reform Plan 2030” (The Defence Reform, 2.0), which takes into account the latest changes in the region’s military-political conditions and the planned transfer of control of the Armed Forces (in case of armed conflict) from the American command to the military and political leadership of the Republic of Korea.
This procedure is provided in accordance with the new concept of joint operation of the US Armed Forces and the Republic of Korea – “OPLAN 5015”.
Moreover, reorganization measures are being taken in the Armed Forces in general and in the GF in particular (the number of ground forces is expected to be reduced from the current 490,000 to 390,000). To effectively counter the DPRK Armed Forces, the South Korean leadership plans to significantly increase the level of combat readiness of the ground forces, their readiness to repel external aggression and conduct counter-offensive operations.
The ground forces units and formations, stationed in the western sector of the country, are planned to be re-equipped and reorganized to form mainly mechanized forces. In the eastern sector of the country, the formations will be transformed into light infantry forces. At the tactical level, the main element of the ground forces will remain the division, which will independently conduct combat operations in the operational mission area.
In terms of technical equipment, the development of military units is characterized by the desire of the military leadership to provide units and subunits with weapons, predominantly developed in the country, as well as modern weapons from companies of the military-industrial complex (MIC) of foreign countries (primarily the United States). The Korean military-industrial complex, in turn, makes maximum use of the technical know-how obtained during the licensed production of foreign-made weapons.
The country’s defense enterprises are working to create new weapons and modernize the existing weapons and military equipment in areas such as armoured and automotive equipment, small arms, military and unmanned aircraft, communication and control systems, etc.
As of 2014, the Republic of Korea has been mass-producing the main battle tanks (MBT) K2 “Black Panther”, which will replace the obsolete American-made MBT M48. Currently, there are already about 100 Black Panther K2 battle tanks as part of the South Korean ground forces. In total, the country’s Ministry of Defense plans to acquire up to 400 MBTs of the new type.
According to the contract concluded in December 2012 between the Defense Procurement Programme Agency and the Hyundai Company, by 2025 up to 600 armoured combat vehicles of various types (armoured reconnaissance vehicle, mechanized IFVs, APCs, armoured wheeled personnel carriers) will be delivered to the army. Samsung completed research and development work on the 105-mm self-propelled howitzer EVO-105.
The artillery gun design was based on the American towed howitzer M101.
The self-propelled howitzer EVO-105 is mounted on the chassis of a KM500 cargo truck. The fire control system is the same as that of the K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer.
In addition, the new self-propelled howitzer is equipped with a 12.7-mm machine gun mounted above the driver’s cab. The firing rate of the artillery gun is 10-rounds per minute. The EVO-105 has been in service with the ground forces since 2018, and it is planned to purchase about 800 units in total.
The renewal of the army helicopter fleet is also on-going. Since 2013, the ground forces have been equipped with multipurpose helicopters of the KUH-1 Surion project. In total, up to 250 such rotorcraft will be in service with the AA units and formations.
In December 2018, the official presentation of the prototype of the promising South Korean LAH (Light Armed Helicopter) was held at the Korea Aerospace Industries in Sacheon. Ground tests of the prototype were carried out in January 2019, and the first test flight was carried out in May 2019. In total, it is planned to produce about 1,000 helicopters of this type in military and civilian versions.
It should be emphasized that the United States is the largest trading partner of the Republic of Korea in the military industry. Every year, in the interests of the ground forces, contracts are signed for the supply or licensed production of various types of arms and military equipment. For example, in accordance with the contract between Boeing Company and the Defense Procurement Programme Agency of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Korea, between 2016 and 2018, 36 An-64E Apache attack helicopters were put into service with the GF.
Thus, the Republic of Korea currently has modern, technically equipped ground forces, which in the future will remain the basis of the national Armed Forces.
The South Korean military units are reformed through the creation of new formations and units in their structure, as well as the entry into the troops of promising weapons and military equipment, mainly of national and American production.
In general, the implementation of modernization programmes, in the medium term will make it possible to further improve the quality of the ground forces, even with the planned reduction in their numbers.