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Ministry seeks bigger defense budget

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday it requested the government to increase its budget by 6.9 percent to 36.8 trillion won ($32.2 billion) next year to enhance combat capabilities and improve solders’ welfare.

The proposal includes a 15-percent salary hike for enlisted troops and outlays for a series of procurement projects for weapons systems, such as mid-range air-to-surface guided bombs, surveillance aircraft, satellites and high-tech destroyers.

The plan was submitted to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and is subject to parliamentary approval.

Of the total 36.8 trillion won, 25.5 trillion won was set aside for force operation involving expenses for maintaining equipment and better supporting the armed forces while 11.2 trillion won was earmarked for defense improvement plans.

With the 15-percent salary increase, a corporal is to receive 134,600 won a month, a rise from the current 117,000 won. The government plans to double the salaries by 2017 in line with President Park Geun-hye’s campaign pledge.

As for defense improvement plans aimed at better handling North Korea’s increasing asymmetrical military threats, the ministry is pushing for 16 projects worth 1.11 trillion won in total.

They include acquiring high- and mid-altitude unmanned surveillance aircraft, which would be part of the “Kill Chain” system ― Seoul’s envisioned preemptive strike program under development.

The ministry also seeks to carry out five projects worth 120 billion won to establish the Korea Air and Missile Defense system ― a low-tier missile shield program to counter North Korea’s ballistic missile attacks. The projects include enhancing the capabilities of existing Patriot Advanced Capability-2 missiles.

To bolster surveillance and deterrence capabilities to handle North Korean threats, the ministry seeks to increase the costs of operating E-737 early warning aircraft, 4,500-ton DDH destroyers and Artillery Hunting Radars by 46.1 billion won, 25.3 billion won and 13.3 billion won, respectively.

For stepped-up defense along the military demarcation line, the ministry plans to build an additional 182 frontline sentry posts and install 126 sets of monitoring facilities.

This move to tighten border security came after a North Korean soldier crossed the MDL and climbed over the barbed wire fence without being spotted last October. South Korean border troops caught him only after he knocked on the glass door of their frontline barracks.

The Defense Ministry has been struggling to secure sufficient budget for defense projects amid an increasing public demand for better welfare. Particularly ahead of the transfer of wartime operational control in December 2015, it has sought to secure financial resources to help reduce security reliance on the U.S. forces and increase self-defense capabilities.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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