Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup gives a briefing on his ministry`s business report to President Yoon Suk-yeol at the presidential office in Seoul on Friday.(Yonhap)
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it would strengthen special operations forces’ infiltration and strike capabilities and step up large-scale South Korea-US field training exercises to deal with North Korea’s escalating threats.
Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup directly briefed President Yoon Suk-yeol on the overall direction and priorities of defense policy and plans to implement major tasks Friday morning at the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul.
The Defense Ministry will seek to strengthen military capabilities to counter omnidirectional threats posed by North Korea to protect the people and establish “peace through power,” it said Friday in a report submitted to the president.
Three-axis missile defense
The completion of a domestically developed three-axis missile defense system -- consisting of the Kill Chain, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) -- was proposed as the major task.
Seoul will seek to secure Kill Chain preemptive strike capabilities by hastening the deployment of military reconnaissance satellites and purchasing additional F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.
The military will enhance capabilities to detect missiles across the Korean Peninsula and build a multi-layered missile defense system, including the development of an L-SAM system that can intercept missiles at altitudes of 40-70 kilometers.
South Korea has not yet independently developed a top-tier layered defense shield such as the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
Massive Punishment and Retaliation
The ministry added that it would reinforce its capabilities to carry out the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation strategy.
The Defense Ministry plans to increase the number of “land, sea and air-based high-powered, ultra-precise missiles that can target the entire North Korean region and further strengthen the penetration and strike capabilities of special operations forces.”
It also laid out a plan to counter threats posed by North Korea’s long-range artillery, which can reach the Seoul metropolitan area.
Seoul will improve early detection of a possible artillery attacks, reinforce counter-fire forces and develop a long-range artillery interception system, the Defense Ministry said, but it did not provide the timeframe.
During his campaign, Yoon pledged to precipitate the deployment of Low Altitude Missile Defense, which is analogous to Israel’s “Iron Dome” interceptor, in the capital and densely populated areas by 2026.
Furthermore, the South Korean military will increase the number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets and reinforce their operation to immediately respond in case of imminent attacks.
The Defense Ministry also said South Korea aims to expeditiously core military capabilities and its ability to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, which are required for the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON).
Launching counter-missile working groups
The Defense Ministry said it will strengthen the South Korea-US alliance’s comprehensive system to respond to North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats. For instance, South Korea and the US will newly launch the Counter Missile Working Group (CMWG) under the Deterrence Strategy Committee and co-research on missile defenses.
The ministry also aims to develop the system to implement the alliance’s “tailored deterrence strategy” and establish procedures to deploy US strategic assets. The reactivation of the vice ministerial-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) is also proposed as the key task to enhance the viability of the US extended deterrence.
Another major goal is to “greatly develop the South Korea-US alliance and deepen and expand defense cooperation” through various channels, including the resumption of large-scale combined military exercises that have been suspended in the aftermath of the first US-North Korea summit in June 2018.
Stepping up field training exercises
The Defense Ministry said it would “fundamentally reinforce the South Korea-US combined defense posture by normalizing combined exercises and training that have been canceled, postponed, reduced or adjusted for a considerable period of time.”
The South Korean military plans to resume regiment-level and larger-scale combined field training exercises (FTXs) such as military exercises with US aircraft carrier strike groups and amphibious landing drills.
South Korea will “intensively conduct various types of combined field training exercises” in connection with annual bilateral drills that have been conducted twice a year.
South Korea’s army, navy and air forces are scheduled to stage 11 FTXs with the US and combined forces between August and September this year.
The South Korean military will further expand combined field training exercises from the next year, the Defense Ministry said. The South Korean and US Forces plan to conduct a total of 21 FTXs in the first half of next year.
As part of those efforts, South Korea and the United States have changed the name of combined military exercises to Freedom Shied in a bid to “inherit the tradition of the South Korea-US alliance and re-establish the system to conduct theater-level combined military exercises.”
“The shield represents the South Korea-US alliance’s strong deterrence against North Korea and underscores the legitimacy of combined military exercises which are defensive in nature,” according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
South Korea and the US abandoned the title of the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” -- which had been used from 2008 to 2018 -- in the aftermath of the first US-North Korea Singapore Summit in June 2018.
Large-scale, theater-level field training exercises such as the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian have been entirely suspended, in line with then-US President Donald Trump’s commitment at the summit. Instead, the South Korean and US military have conducted small-scale military exercises at battalion level and below throughout the five years.