South Korea’s Military Modernization Program

Several Congressional Delegations have visited South Korea since the election of President Kim Dae Jung last December. The lawmakers received extensive briefings from senior officials of the ROK Defense Ministry (including Minister Chun Yong-taek) and the leadership of South Korea’s armed forces. They also met with leaders of the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command.

Among the participants were Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a West Point graduate, former Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), who previously served as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, former Congressmen John T. Myers (R-IN) and Jim Bunn (R-OR), who both served on the Foreign Operations and National Security Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee.

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>South Korea’s Military Modernization

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> President Bill Clinton will visit South Korea from November 20th to the 22nd, 1998 and is expected to strongly reaffirm the military and economic ties between the USA and the ROK. This will be his first visit to Seoul since President Kim Dae Jung took office in February. The leadership role of the United States is well recognized on the peninsula and the Clinton visit will be a major boost for the stature of the ROK President.

The United States is largely responsible for the Korean Nuclear Framework Agreement and it is the prime force behind the Four Way Talks. The United States has also provided $8 billion in economic assistance to South Korea, and 640,000 American troops would be sent to the peninsula in the event of a major attack.


Despite over four decades of cooperation between the two countries, many American policy experts are concerned about the current situation. The Clinton visit comes at a time when suspicions of renewed nuclear ambitions in the North have arisen over the discovery of underground facilities which are still being constructed. Several prominent national security experts are now questioning the wisdom of the Korean Nuclear Framework Agreement which was designed to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The Clinton visit is also coming at a time when President Kim is being criticized for significant human rights violations. The Secretary General of Amnesty International visited Seoul in September and after meeting with the President said, “It seems to me that he has lost touch with the reality of the human rights situation in South Korea. His government’s failure to stop abuse of the National Security Law and engage in meaningful dialogue with human rights organizations is fast eroding confidence and trust in his administration. Over 240 political prisoners have been incarcerated since he took office.”

The most significant new military development appears to be the “sunshine” policy announced by President Kim in his inaugural address. This policy is designed to relax tensions between North and South Korea. The President is calling for “a new chapter of reconciliation, exchanges and cooperation. Let us initiate a good relationship for mutual prosperity and coexistence.” The danger of the “sunshine policy” as relayed to us by several ROK military leaders is that the President does not appear to be a vigorous proponent of the strong defense policies advocated by all of his predecessors.

For example, a major decision now confronting President Kim is the future of South Korea’s military modernization program. This involves key decisions such as what to do when the ROK’s 270 F-4 and F-5 jet fighters need to be replaced in a few years. A Korea Fighter Program already exists and the ROK Air Force will receive the final delivery of 120 KF-16 jet fighters next year. They are being manufactured under U.S. license by Samsung Aerospace. However, the Kim Administration has not decided which aircraft to select for the next generation and an imminent decision is not expected.

From 1995 through 1997 the South Korean government imported military items from the United States worth more than $4.7 billion. This has led to significant criticism within President Kim’s ruling National Congress for New Politics. Key lawmakers such as Rep. Lim Bok-jin are now publicly saying the ROK government is far to dependent on American defense manufacturers.

“Our domestic arms market is now characterized by an oligopoly of U.S. arms companies. Five U.S. companies supplied 62 percent of our defense items during this period and we definitely need to diversify our suppliers. A major priority should be developing our own weapons or at least weapons parts,” the Congressman said recently.


Other lawmakers and officials associated with the President are now complaining about American export policies. They say the United States is hindering ROK manufacturers because they need U.S. government approval to export weapons made with American technology to a third country. Since 1996, South Korean defense companies have not received a single U.S. government approval to sell weapons to third countries.

Kim’s military posture is particularly surprising in light of North Korea’s continued aggression. On August 31st the communist government shocked the world when they tested a Taepo-dong missile with a range of 2000 km. President Kim’s predecessors had previously promised to purchase either a U.S. Patriot or a Russian-made S-300 missile defense system, but not before the year 2000. A Patriot battalion would cost the ROK in excess of $1 billion while the Russian system would be significantly less expensive.

It now appears that President Kim has changed course. He has instructed the ROK’s Agency for Defense Development to accelerate work on a medium-range surface-to-air missile which will have a range of 40 km. It is being designed to intercept invading North Korean military aircraft and Scud-type missiles. The system will not be operational until 2008 and previous plans to purchase a U.S. or Russian system appear to be on a permanent hold

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>North Korea’s Aggressive Policies

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> In April of 1997, a former member of Kim Il Sung’s Old Guard defected to South Korea. Seventy-two year old Jang Yop Hwang entered the South Korean embassy in Beijing and formally defected. Hwang was Speaker of the House in the People’s Supreme Congress, the Secretary of the International Affairs Committee of the Worker’s Party, as well as a former president of Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. Hwang also takes credit for creating “Kim-Il-Sungism (Ju-che Ideology)” an offshoot of Marxism, and taught both ideologies to the current leader of North Korea: Kim Jong Il.

Hwang claims that he defected because the North Korean government is “feudalist and militarist, not communist.” On several occasions he has said that North Korea is preparing for a surprise attack on the South. He also confirmed that the North had a significant nuclear weapons capability and atomic bomb capabilities. While his credentials seem to support his claims, whether or not Hwang is telling the truth still remains to be seen. Nevertheless, several prominent analysts are now saying that Hwang’s warnings should be heeded and the necessary preparations for a North Korean invasion should take place.


We believe a second Korean war is unlikely. If North Korea were to attack the South, the ensuing war would result in high level of casualties on both sides. Such a war could last several months, and South Korea’s economic infrastructure would suffer heavy damage. North Korea’s fate would be determined in the first couple of weeks, and Pyongyang would prevail if it were able to make quick territorial gains south of Seoul and persuade opposing forces to accept a cease-fire which would create a new Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The modernization of U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) military forces has significantly increased the capabilities of their Combined Forces Command (CFC). Because of the South’s booming economy, its defense budget tripled from 1981 to 1998. Meanwhile, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which supplied it with discounted arms, North Korea’s military advantage has been seriously eroded since the 1980s. Although it still maintains one of the largest armies in the world, the North Korean economy has virtually collapsed over the past decade.

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>Military Power

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> In comparing the military strengths of the two sides, North Korea retains several advantages. At sea, the North has 25 attack submarines and approximately 17 smaller, non attack submarines, to the South’s one attack submarine. The North originally had 26 submarines, but one was lost during the September 1996 incident. The North has nearly 43 missile attack boats, 399 coastal patrol craft and 194 amphibious craft at its disposal.

On the ground, the North has over one million active duty soldiers. This is nearly 30 percent of all North Korean males between the ages of 13 to 32. This compares with the South’s 650,000 soldiers. North Korea has two times the number of tanks (4,000 to 2,000), field artillery units (10,200 to 5,000), and surface-to-air missiles (54 to 24).

It also has the world’s largest organized special operations forces, approximately 88,000 personnel. It’s troops are positioned close to the DMZ, which minimizes their need for preparation for an attack; the army has invested heavily in artillery firepower, which includes long-range systems that can reach across the border all the way into Seoul city itself.

The CFC’s advantages are more important in the long run: a strong defensive position, a world-class regional air force assisted by the U.S. Air Force, dominance over the seas, and better training. Perhaps the greatest advantage of all is the South’s economic and industrial resources which would be readily available. If there were to be any success at all against the South Korean-U.S. alliance, it would depend largely on how the North Koreans decided to start the war.

North Korea is arguably well-suited and the best prepared country to carry out a massive surprise attack in the world. If the North were to commence such an attack, it would be in a time of moderate tension, where it would be able to catch CFC forces in garrison and its air forces on the ground. Right now, North Korea’s front-line infantry and artillery units are positioned forward to attack supplies (ammunition, fuel, etc.).


North Korean missiles would play a significant role in the war. Currently, North Korea is a potential threat to Japan as well as other Asian countries because of its ballistic missile capabilities. It already has a total of 300 SCUD B missiles, which have a range of 320 to 340 kilometers and a payload of 1000kg, as well as SCUD C missiles, which have a range of 500 to 600 kilometers and a payload of 700kg. A SCUD B missile is sufficient enough to reach Seoul; a SCUD C missile, equipped with chemical warheads, could be utilized in the event of war as well.

The North Korean ballistic missile currently being developed will be capable of hitting Japan. In addition, they have developed the Nodong-1, which has a payload of 800kg and can hit targets within a distance of 1,000 to 1,300 kilometers. In May 1993, North Korean conducted its first test firing in the Japan Sea. Nodong-1 will likely be brought into production fairly soon, and 100 or more are estimated to be produced within the next five years.

The former Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey, testified before Congress in 1995 that North Korea had developed the Taepodong-1, which has a range of 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers, and the Taepodong-2, which can hit targets between 1,500 to 3,500 kilometers. These ballistic missiles would be able to inflict damage to command and supply centers located in Japan as well as naval support fleets. Taepodong-1 is based on the Nodong-1, but Taepodong-2 is an entirely new system.

Pyongyang launched its first medium range Taepodong-1 ballistic missile from the northeastern part of North Korea on August 31, 1998. The rocket landed in the high seas off the Sanriku coast of Japan, after passing over the Japanese island of Honshu before diving into the Pacific Ocean. This test evoked swift condemnation in the region and beyond, but North Korea was intent on demonstrating a “show of force” in advance of the 50th anniversary of it’s founding on September 5 and the installation of Kim Jong Il as Supreme Leader. It is plausible that the launch had multiple purposes: to serve as an advertisement of the country’s missile technology, and to serve as a bargaining chip to win concessions from the U.S.

In addition to Taepodong-1, North Korea is claiming to have launched a satellite called Gwang Myung Sung. There are sources that say it is a missile with a range of 6000 km. If true, this would mean that North Korea has moved from two or three stage missiles to satellite technology. North Korean missiles already pose a great threat to Asian security. If these new missiles are sold in the Middle East or Southeast Asia (such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, etc.) or other volatile regions they will pose a global security threat.

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>Military Strategy and Special Operations Forces


<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> With the production of the Nodong and Taepodong missiles North Korea already is a real threat to South Korea, but the implications go much further. The range on their missiles serve as a direct threat to Japan and even the United States. North Korea is capable of targeting U.S. military bases and stations in the South and in Japan, U.S. naval ships and submarines are also vulnerable, as are the 45,000 American military personnel in Japan.

North Korea’s first action in a war scenario would have to be the launch of a missile attack on South Korea. We would also expect them to target naval forces patrolling the pacific. A simultaneous stage would be a barrage from the thousands of artillery tubes positioned just north of the DMZ. The CFC headquarters, supply stations and transportation units would all suffer heavy casualties. Other components of a North Korean attack would be fighters and bombers which would strike airfields and fortified military targets. Meanwhile, Seoul and its 13.5 million people would be in a state of panic.

On the same day, North Korea would be expected to execute a rapid naval operation which would transport its special task force consisting of 88,000 men into the South along the eastern seaboard. Using a variety of means such as submarines, hovercraft, small planes, helicopters, rafts, hang gliders and fishing boats, the first units would probably land in the Kang Neung area in northeastern Korea. A second unit could land in the Pohang area. In the Pusan area, a third unit could land to deliver maximum surprise and damage to the CFC.

The North Korean special operations team would be working simultaneously with underground forces which would then emerge through tunnels dug underneath Seoul and surrounding cities. There are over 25 major tunnels which have been discovered in Seoul and outlaying areas. In effect, thousands of special operations teams would be inserted into the South to attack critical targets such as command and communication centers, air defense systems, airfields and supply depots.

The ensuing ground battle would be centered around how successful the North Koreans are in penetrating the South. While CFC forces are deployed along the eastern coast to defend against the special forces, over one million North Korean soldiers would be expected to cross the DMZ. The terrain along the DMZ is very rugged and favors the CFC defense. However, the North Korea would have a significant advantage because of their sheer numbers.

Penetrating into Seoul would be a difficult task for the North, as CFC air support would mount a strong effort to prevent any enemy units and reinforcements from crossing defensive lines. Within the second week, the South would be able to use its air superiority to do essentially what North Korea used its long-range systems for: the destruction of transportation units, roads, logistical centers, supply centers, etc.


At that point, the primary focus for air attacks would be destroying roads and columns. Should North Korean forces reach the battlefield, CFC ground forces would be engaged in defensive battles and counterattacks to push back any penetration into Seoul. Unfortunately for the South, there would not be time for any major deployment from the United States, unless reinforcements were already in place as a result of a long period of tension.

The only hope North Korea has for success is if it reenacts an offensive rush to the city of Pusan, similar to the attack of June-July 1950. The North must be able to end the war before the U.S. Army enters the fray, which would give them temporary control of the peninsula. However, the North’s success in the 1950s depended on the balance of military capabilities on the peninsula, as well as the absence of the U.S. (and the slow arrival of its reinforcements). The balance in the 1990s is now firmly in Seoul’s favor, and U.S. assistance during the event of war would help expel the invaders.

Yet, without question, the end result of a second war would be the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. While the CFC would utilize its naval and air superiority, the North Koreans would prove difficult to expel because of their ability to hide in caves, mountains, valleys and man-made tunnels. The tunnels, built since 1964, would easily cause severe problems in search and destroy operations since the element of surprise is in the favor of North Korea.

If the CFC forces are successful in repelling the North back across the DMZ, how far the front line advances beyond the DMZ will largely depend on politics — in particular, Chinese sensitivity to movement north of Pyongyang. The greatest danger facing the United States and South Korea is war with China. There are two probable reasons why China would directly support the North in war: 1) If Seoul was clearly the aggressor against the north; 2) China might join the war in order to expel the U.S. from Asia. However, direct confrontation appears unlikely as China is demonstrating a deep commitment to long-term economic development.

<!–[if supportFields]>ADVANCE \d4<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>Conclusion

This past September 5, the First Session of the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK amended its National Constitution. Under the new constitution they have elected Kim Jong Il to a second 5 year term as Chairman of National Defense Commission. This came as a surprise to many keeping watch on the current events in North Korea. Kim Jong Il is already the Supreme Commander of the military forces, an honorary military Marshall, and General Secretary of the Worker’s Party in North Korea.

Kim Jong Il is not the president of North Korea, but he is in the same position as a president. He clearly has the most power and influence as head of the Workers Party and Supreme Commander of the military. He has frequently advocated a “Glorious Revolutionary War” to unite the two Koreas. We believe there are several key factors that Kim Jong Il will take advantage of to wage his war.


South Korea is currently experiencing economic strains as well as political difficulties. It is quite plausible that these problems will escalate and weaken Kim Dae Jung and his administration. In addition to economic and political pressures, Kim Dae Jung’s “Sunshine Policy” leaves the door open to North Korean propaganda, which is infiltrating the South, sowing seeds of anti-Americanism and the reunification of North and South Korea, under the guise of democracy, but in reality, through communist subversion. Already there is significant anti-American sentiment being propagated through the North Korean media.

North Korea is in dire straits economically, socially, politically. Like a wild animal that is backed-up and does not have anywhere else to go, Kim Jong Il may feel the pressure to fight his way out of his current situation. As a last ditch effort to salvage North Korea’s turmoil, Kim Jong Il may resort to war.

Recent diplomatic and political developments, as well as the deterioration of North Korea’s economy, has given hope to the many advocates of reunification. However, these could precisely be the factors which would drive them to war. The preparation for a potential war with the North is not easy, and very costly. If the North is presently planning to invade the South, it is undoubtedly an act of growing desperation. We believe that to deter a second war, South Korean and U.S. forces must maintain a high level of readiness.

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