A KC-330 (Ministry of Defense)
South Korea's military is rolling up its sleeves to help address supply shortages of urea solution, a material used to reduce emissions in diesel vehicles, by mobilizing a transport plane for emergency imports and unleashing part of its reserves.
This week, the military has mobilized the Air Force's KC-330 tanker transport aircraft to import 27,000 liters of urea solution from Australia, and decided to lend 200,000 liters of the fluid from its stockpile to the civilian sector.
The military's support was part of the government's all-out efforts to tackle the urea supply woes caused by China's tightening of urea exports in October amid a power crisis caused by a coal supply shortage. Coal is the main feedstock to produce urea.
"Given that this is a considerably serious issue, it is only natural for our military to act and do what it can to help tackle the supply crisis," a defense official told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.
"Our position at this point is to do whatever we can to an extent that it does not have any negative impact on military operations," he added.
The KC-330 plane, which left for Australia on Wednesday, is expected to arrive back at Gimhae International Airport in the country's southeastern port city of Busan at around 5 p.m. Thursday.
The Air Force asset has been mobilized for various high-profile emergency missions, including the humanitarian operation in August to evacuate to South Korea nearly 400 Afghan co-workers and family members who had faced Taliban threats for supporting foreign operations.
In the afternoon, part of the military's urea solution reserves will be released to more than 30 filling stations located near the country's five major ports in Busan, Incheon, Gwangyang, Pyeongtaek and Ulsan.
The government will mainly supply the military's urea solution to container trucks carrying trade items, a move to ease lingering concerns that the shortages of the fluid could have an adverse impact on the logistics industry.
The military's efforts to ease the supply shortages, however, spawned concerns that they could negatively affect its readiness posture as security uncertainties hang over the Korean Peninsula with North Korea doubling down on its nuclear and missile programs.
On the military's lending of its urea reserve, the defense ministry has stressed the armed services' stockpiles are currently sufficient enough and that it would lend part of the military reserve only "temporarily."
The ministry also stressed urea is not an item reserved for wartime operations, as it is an "additive" for diesel vehicles to operate in line with environmental rules.
The military operates about 10,000 diesel-powered vehicles, such as trucks and buses, the ministry said. It is known to have more than six months' worth of urea solution to use for the operation of those vehicles. (Yonhap)