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Lee pledges to build nuclear submarines, launch space command

Lee says he will adopt a hybrid system of conscript and volunteer military if elected

Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party, speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Dec. 24. (Yonhap)
Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party, speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Dec. 24. (Yonhap)
South Korean presidential hopeful Lee Jae-myung on Friday promised to push forward with plans to build a nuclear-powered submarine and launch a space command against multifaceted threats as part of his policy manifesto.

The presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea announced his envisioned defense and security policies at a news conference, under the theme of “fostering a smart, powerful force.”

Lee called for a new, multidomain approach to protecting national security against diverse and non-traditional threats.

“We now need to find a new direction in national security against new emerging threats and a demographic cliff,” Lee said. “We should thoroughly examine and prepare for threats stemming from (security) uncertainties and protect the people and the territory of the Republic of Korea with rapid defense innovation and change.”

The key of his election pledges is to build the “smart, powerful force” optimized for a new battlefield environment by utilizing the advanced technology of the “4th Industrial Revolution.“

To that end, Lee promised to advance the weapons system and “strengthen the core military capability to respond to nuclear and weapons of mass destruction WMD threats.”

Lee notably raised the need to establish a nuclear-powered attack submarine, which also has been pursued by the Moon Jae-in government.

“I will secure the core military capability for preparing for the future war,” Lee said. “Based on the solid South Korea-US alliance, I will push ahead with building a nuclear-powered submarine, which is capable of ambushing, monitoring, and reconnoitering underwater for a long time, against North Korean nuclear threats.”

The presidential hopeful also unveiled its plan to expand a military operations area into space by establishing a “space command” and “defense space network” consisting of early-warning satellites and micro surveillance and reconnaissance satellites.

Hybrid of conscription and all-volunteer military
Another key pledge is to restructure military service and expand the professional volunteer service, with the goal of fostering more capable and specialized personnel in preparation for the demographic cliff in South Korea.

Lee essentially said he would introduce a new hybrid system for military personnel, between a conscription and an all-volunteer military system, seeking a midpoint between the two. But the presidential candidate elucidated he would basically adhere to the current mandatory military service.

In the new system, South Korean citizens who are subject to mandatory military service would have two options: Signing up as a conscript and serving as a professional non-commissioned officer.

The non-commissioned officers will be assigned to duties requiring combat skills and specialty, which include operating high-tech military equipment.

If he is elected as president, Lee said he would reduce the number of conscripts from 300,000 to 150,000 during his term.

The ruling party’s presidential candidate, instead, will increase the number of professional non-commissioned officers by 50,000 through conscription and additionally hire 50,000 civilian employees with expertise in administration, logistics, and education to support the military.

Lee aims to maintain a standing force of 400,000 personnel after restructuring the military, pushing forward his plans to improve the environment for military service. The plans include the renovation of barracks, an upgrade in the quality of meals for military service, and support for education.

The ruling party’s presidential candidate also promised to raise the salary of conscripted soldiers to the level of the minimum wage and pay around 2 million won ($1,700).

Lee said he would directly take the initiative in “defense innovation” by establishing a presidential committee.

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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