Military equipment: the Republic of Korea Armed Forces are equipped with a mix of domestically-produced and imported weapons systems. Domestic production includes armored fighting vehicles, artillery, aircraft, and naval ships. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020=]

Major Military Equipment: The army has 1,000 main battle tanks, 40 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 2,480 armored personnel carriers, approximately 4,500 towed and self- propelled artillery pieces, 185 multiple rocket launchers, 6,000 mortars, 58 antitank guns, 600 air defense guns, 2 surface-to-surface missiles, 1,090 surface-to-air missiles, 117 attack helicopters, 18 transport helicopters, and 283 utility helicopters. The navy has 20 diesel submarines, 6 destroyers, 9 frigates, 28 corvettes, 5 missile craft, 15 mine warfare vessels, 12 amphibious vessels, 75 inshore patrol boats, 16 combat aircraft, and 43 armed helicopters. The marines (part of the navy) have 60 main battle tanks and 60 assault amphibian vehicles. The air force has a total of 538 combat aircraft with 153 F–16C/D, 185 F–5E/F, 130 F–4D/E, 22 combat-capable trainers, 20 forward air control aircraft, 27 reconnaissance aircraft, 25 helicopters, 34 tactical airlift aircraft, 203 training aircraft, and 103 unmanned aerial vehicles. The air force has no armed helicopters. [Source: Library of Congress, May 2005]

In the past, and maybe its still true today, South Korean army has been accused of having an acute shortage of ammunition and spare parts. Soldiers in some companies have been allowed to shoot only three rounds of ammunition during the training exercises and army gas masks are designed to protect wearers against tear gas not lethal chemical weapons. Even though this is true South Korean defense officials have wanted spend tens of million of dollars to buy night vision equipment for helicopters, stinger anti-aircrafts missiles and electronic information-gathering systems. Seoul is trying to build its own defense trainers rather than purchase them from foreign sources.

Military Hardware in the 2000s
North Korea — South Korea — United States in South Korea
Tanks — 3,500 — 2,330 — 259
Artillery — 10,400 — 4,800 — 90

Multiple-rocket launchers — 2,400 — 114 — 36

Combat Aircraft — 850 — 550 — 102
Attack Helicopters50 — 140 — 18
Helicopters — 310 — 630
Major Combat Ships ---- 3 — 39 — 0
Patrol Ships — 424 — 105
Submarines 26 — 20 — 0

In 2005, major naval units included 20 tactical submarines, 6 destroyers, nine frigates, 28 corvettes, 80 patrol/coastal vessels, and 15 mine warfare ships.
Total Naval Strength in 2016: 166
Aircraft Carriers: 1 helicopter carrier
Frigates: 11
Destroyers: 12
Corvettes: 18
Submarines: 15
Coastal Defense Craft: 80
Mine Warfare: 10
[Source: globalfirepower.com; [Source: Library of Congress, May 2005]

Defenses in South Korea

A barbed wire fence extends along the entire length of the 650-kilometers (400-mile) east coast. Along the top of the fences are colored stones put in a certain sequence. They are checked from time to time to see if they have fallen down or been replaced. When I visited the area I was told it probably wasn't a good idea to take a night time walk on the beach. Rewards of US$63,000 are offered for information on North Korean spies. Posters along the border say, “You could find one right here, right now!"

South Korean highways are designed so that when dividers and posts are cleared away they can be used as runways for planes. Rivers can be quickly filled with "anti-intrusion devises." Road barriers are located along the invasions routes into South Korea. "ROK drops" are overpasses that drop huge hexagonal concrete blocks onto to the roadways, when an implanted explosive devise is detonated, blocking the road and thus stalling a North Korean advance. Tank traps are similar devises. The are camouflaged towers set along roads that fall down on the road, block it, when its explosive devise is activated.

Seoul is only 25 miles from North Korea and the citizens here are prepared for the worst. Billboards screen radars and rocket launchers. Flower planters conceal machine guns. Buildings have a thicker wall on the north side and facilities that allow tanks to drive down into their basements. Cables are stretched across golf fairways to clothesline North Korean gliders. [Source: Boyd Gibbons, National Geographic]

Seoul is protected with a computerized system set up to detect air-raids and chemical and biological weapons attacks. It breaks down often. Korean cities regularly conduct civil defense drills. Monthly civil defense drill are held across the country on the 15th of every month. After 20 minutes the all-clear signal is given. Factories in the 1960s had their own militias that were equipped to fight and defend the plant facilities.

When North Korea pilot, Lee Chol-su, defected aboard his MiG-19, in 1996, no air warning sirens sounded when the aircraft flew into South Korean airspace. Four officials were later arrested: one of them because he ordered that the computerized air-system be shut down because of frequent breakdowns; two others because they failed to respond properly after receiving a hot-line call, thinking the call was for an exercise not a real alarm.

Military Production in South Korea

From the end of the Korean War to 1990, South Korea had evolved from a country dependent on other nations for its national security to a strong and growing nation, increasingly capable of meeting its own defense needs. Civilian industries maintained military assembly lines as a separate, and generally small, part of their corporate activities.

The Defense Industry Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense was the government agency responsible for managing the quantity and quality of domestically produced weapons and equipment. In 1990 South Korean industries provided about 70 percent of the weapons, ammunition, communications and other types of equipment, vehicles, clothing, and other supplies needed by the military. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Weapons production for the army began in 1971 when the Ministry of National Defense constructed a plant to assemble United States-designed Colt M-16 rifles. The memorandum of agreement between the United States and the Republic of Korea authorized production of enough rifles to supply South Korean army units. However, the agreement prohibited the production of additional M-16s without the permission of Colt Industries and the United States government. In the mid-1970s, South Korea signed agreements to begin licensed production of many types of United States-designed weapons, including grenades, mortars, mines, and recoilless rifles, with the same stipulations as those for the M-16 rifle. South Korea also began to manufacture ammunition for the weapons it produced for the army.*

By 1990 South Korean companies had army contracts to produce tanks, self-propelled and towed field guns, two types of armored vehicles, and two types of helicopters. A division of Hyundai produced the 88 Tank (formerly called the K-1 tank) at Ch'angwon. The K-1 was the result of a joint United States-South Korean design. The 88 Tank's 105mm gun was an improved version of the same caliber gun that was standard on South Korea's M-48A5 tanks. Although a few components of the tanks' fire control and transmission systems were imported, Hyundai and South Korean subcontractors manufactured most of the systems. One of the Samsung Group's businesses produced 155mm M-109 self-propelled howitzers. KIA Machine Tool was the manufacturer for the KH-178 105mm and the KH-179 155mm towed field guns. The KH-178 and KH179 guns were derived from United States-designed artillery but were considered indigenously designed. Daewoo Industries and Asia Motors had a coproduction agreement for an Italian-designed wheeled, armored personnel vehicle. Bell Helicopters Textron of the United States and Samsung coproduced UH-1 helicopters. Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, also of the United States, had a contract with Daewoo to coproduce H-76 helicopters.*

In December 1989, the Ministry of National Defense selected the McDonnell Douglas FA-18 to be the second United Statesdesigned fighter aircraft to be coproduced in South Korea. Samsung's aerospace division was awarded a contract to manufacture the airframe and engine; Lucky-Goldstar became the subcontractor for the aircraft's avionics. McDonnell Douglas agreed to deliver twelve FA-18s to the South Korean air force in 1993 and to assist Samsung with the later assembly of 108 aircraft in South Korea. As of 1990, the entire FA-18 program was under review because of increased costs. Korean Air used its depot maintenance facilities at Kimhae to overhaul most types of aircraft in service with the South Korean air force. Additionally, the United States Air Force contracted with Korean Air for the maintenance of its F-4, F-15, A-10, and C-130 aircraft stationed in South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.*

In 1990 South Korean shipbuilders were building two indigenously designed naval vessels, and they had coproduction agreements with United States, Italian, and German companies for several other types of ships. Four shipbuilders — Hyundai, Daewoo, Korea Tacoma, and Korean Shipbuilding and Engineering — constructed South Korean-designed Ulsan-class frigates and Tonghae-class corvettes for the navy. During the 1980s, Korea Tacoma, a South Korean-owned subsidiary of the United States Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, produced one class of patrol gunboat and one class of landing ship for the navy. The Kirogi-class patrol boat was a larger model of the Tacoma-designed Schoolboyclass patrol boat manufactured in South Korea during the 1970s. The Kirogi-class patrol boat, a 170-ton vessel, required a thirty-one-person crew and was equipped with five guns: one 40mm single-barreled Bofors on the bow, two 30mm twin-barreled Emerson Electrics in the stern, and two 20mm Oerlikon twin-barreled guns behind the bridge. The Kirogi-class patrol boat, with a range of 700 kilometers and a maximum speed of 38 knots, was well suited for its inshore patrol mission.*

The Mulgae-class landing ship, another naval vessel designed and produced in the United States by Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, was ordered by the navy to augment a small amphibious fleet that comprised several models of obsolescent transport craft produced in the United States during World War II and transferred to the South Korean navy in the 1960s and 1970s. The Mulgae-class landing ship was designed to carry an infantry company with its weapons, mechanized and wheeled vehicles, and other supplies. It had a range of 560 kilometers and a maximum speed of 13 knots. In 1986 South Korea's Kangnam Shipbuilding Corporation began construction of the Swallow/Chebi class minehunter, which was based on the Italian-designed Lerici-class. At that time, the South Korean navy had only eight United States-produced Kunsanclass minesweepers in service with the three fleets. The Swallowclass minehunter had new types of sonar and mine countermeasure equipment that was expected to improve the navy's capability to locate and to eliminate minefields in international shipping lanes during wartime.*

In the late 1980s, production of submarines designed by the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was initiated. Three 150-ton submarines designed by the Howaldswerke Shipbuilding Corporation were in service with the navy in 1990. Howaldswerke also had plans to provide technical assistance for the construction of three Type 209 submarines, about 1,400 tons each. South Korean military planners were interested in using submarines to protect critical shipping lanes from North Korean submarines in wartime.*

Shortcomings of South Korean Military Equipment

Song Young-sun, a female representative in the South Korean legislature, made a name for herself for confronting generals and defense contractors over defective gear and wasteful spending. But her critics condemned her as publicity seeker. Reporting from Seoul, John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As the cameras whirred and her fellow legislators watched in silence, the petite lawmaker held up Exhibit A: a new pair of combat boots. The government had just spent US$35 million and a decade doing research on the high-tech shoes, which leaked in the rain and quickly shed their heels. As far as Song Young-sun was concerned, they were just the latest example of what was wrong with the South Korean military. "You're spending billions of dollars to purchase fighter jets, ships and submarines, but the most important thing on your shopping list should be the morale of your soldiers," Song bluntly told military brass summoned to the National Assembly recently for an annual government audit. "These boots are their personal vehicles for 16 hours a day. If your feet hurt when you walk, you're not a dedicated soldier. And if you generals lose your men, you've already lost the war." [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, November 08, 2010]

Song, a veteran military analyst who is one of only 41 women among 299 national lawmakers, has unabashedly used her post on the powerful National Defense Committee to help keep the highest-ranking military minds in check, publicly questioning the nation's military readiness in the face of an aggressive North Korea and its million-man army. Along the way, she has embarrassed career officers who aren't used to such a take-no-prisoners skewering, especially from a woman. To win” her battles, “she's not afraid of resorting to stunts: She once showed up at the National Assembly with a suitcase full of over-the-counter chemicals, giving a demonstration on how they could easily be combined to make deadly sarin gas.

“On an impromptu inspection of a military contractor whose military-ration kimchi once contained a dead rat, she announced, "If I had a son in the military and he had to eat this kind of garbage, I'd kill all the generals." But it's not just the generals who have felt her wrath. Song has blasted overprotective mothers for turning many soldiers into "mama's boys" and has proposed that military service should be mandatory for women, not just men. She has investigated the breakdown of armored vehicles and a tank whose barrel exploded. She has campaigned against substandard drinking water and a lack of live bullets for soldiers and probed the theft of top-secret military files, including North Korea war plans, from army-issued computers.

Weapons and Equipment of the South Korean Army

In the mid 2000s, the South Korean Army's equipment roster included 2,330 main battle tanks, 40 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 2,480 armored personnel carriers, over 10,774 artillery pieces, and 60 attack helicopters. North Korea has more than 5,000 multiple-launch rockets pointed at Seoul, whose metro area is home to some 25 million people. [Source: Library of Congress, May 2005]

Tanks and Main Artillery in 2016
Tanks: 2,381 (light tanks and tank destroyers, either wheeled or tracked)
Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs): 2,660 (Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs)
Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs): 1,990
Towed-Artillery: 5,374
Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs): 214
Helicopters: 679
Attack Helicopters: 77 [Source: globalfirepower.com]

Between 1980 and 1990, the army increased in size by only a small margin. During this same period, however, new units were formed; the procurement of new tanks, armored personnel carriers, field artillery, antitank guns, air defense missiles, helicopters, and other types of military equipment significantly improved the defensive capabilities of the ground forces. In 1980 the army had approximately 1,200 United States-produced M-47 and M-48 tanks and 500 mostly United States-produced M-113 armored personnel carriers (also some Fiat 6614 wheeled armored personnel carriers). By 1990 South Korea had manufactured 200 of the domestically produced T-88 tank and had upgraded most of its M-48s to M-48A3s or M-48A5s. During the period from 1980 to 1990, the number of field artillery pieces more than doubled, going from 2,000 to 4,200 pieces, and South Korea began to introduce larger guns to extend the effective range of fire. In 1980 the army was equipped with 57mm, 75mm, 90mm, and 106mm recoilless rifles for antitank use and TOWs. In 1990 the TOW and LAW still were the primary antitank weapons. The 106mm/90mm recoilless rifles increased in numbers and were the basic antitank system for the infantry, although lower caliber weapons still existed. The TOWs were relatively scarce and were organized into independent units separate from the infantry divisions' main organization and equipment. The national air defense network comprised only 100 Vulcan antiaircraft guns and a small number of Nike-Hercules and HAWK surface-to-air missiles in 1980; by 1990 there were 600 antiaircraft guns, and the NikeHercules and HAWKs had both increased in number and undergone significant upgrades. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

South Korea's K2 Black Panther Tank: Built for Korea’s Mountainous Terrain

South Korea’s K2 is a formidable tank that is built for Korea's terrain. Ed Kim wrote in The National Interest: ““The South Korean army has peculiar needs. For one, just across the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea possesses one of the largest tank armies in the world. In this cauldron of densely packed military forces, both sides share a peninsula that is also very mountainous. During the Korean War, many battles were fought in places such as the Punchbowl, Pork Chop Hill, Old Baldy, Bloody Ridge and Heartbreak Ridge, just to name a few. Any weapon built specifically to exploit the peninsula’s terrain would have an edge. So, when South Korea produced its first domestically designed tank, Seoul took the mountainous terrain into full account. [Source: Ed Kim,The National Interest, October 25, 2019]

“The K2 can ford rivers up to 4.2 meters deep via a snorkel kit that doubles as a “conning” tower, something the Korean army learned from the 35 T-80Us it acquired from Russia back in the late ’90s. Although the heart of a tank is its gun, the next most important component is its engine and transmission, collectively known as the “powerpack.” For this, South Korea looked to Germany and its excellent MTU-890 V12 diesel 1,500 horsepower engine. Unfortunately, cracking that nut turned out to be much harder, and it took Seoul seven years to finally reverse engineer an acceptable copy. The domestically designed engine has slightly worse acceleration versus the MTU — 0–32 kilometers per hour at nearly eight seconds, up from seven seconds. The first 100 K2s produced will have MTU engines and successive batches will sport Korean engines.

“Yet, despite the foreign influences, there are some original native innovations. The most noticeable is the tank’s hydropneumatic suspension. Originally developed on the K1, an improved version allows the K2 to lower or raise its profile. Like a “low riding” street car it can kneel, sit or “lean” in any direction. This allows the tank to conceal itself using the ultimate “hull down” positions, the holy grail of defensive tank tactics, where the tank’s turret and cannon peeks out from behind elevated terrain — which hides most of the tank from any enemies advancing against it.

“Next is the use of a millimeter band radar in conjunction with the K2’s fire control system. Although South Korea didn’t invent millimeter band radar, its integration and application of it is unique. Since mountainous terrain is uneven terrain, there is a danger of sudden bumps knocking out the aim of even a stabilized gun while the tank is on the move. The radar predicts uneven terrain and slightly delays the trigger. When the gun realigns with the target, it fires.

“In terms of armaments, the Black Panther has a range of standard HEAT and tungsten core sabot rounds, but in addition it has a unique round all its own. With lots of hills there are lots of little valleys for enemy tanks to hide in. When the K2 uses its suspension to “sit,” it can elevate its gun to a near mortar-like angle to indirectly fire a millimeter band radar-guided “top attack” round.

“Once fired, the round deploys a parachute, selects a target and shoots a molten projectile into the thin top of an enemy vehicle. Germany and Israel have similar rounds, but only for artillery because their tank guns cannot reach the necessary elevation angle. Called the Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition, or “KSTAM,” it can reach out and touch someone eight kilometers away.

“In terms of armor, the K2 most likely has a classified composite blend. Clearly, that doesn’t say much, but we do know that the front has been tested to withstand a close range sabot shot from the K2’s own L55 high velocity gun. At only 55 tons, the tank is a full 10 tons lighter than the M1A2 or Leopard 2A6, thus it isn’t well protected everywhere so reactive armor blocks bolster the vulnerable parts of the sides and roof.

“Although South Korea has wanted to export this tank, all these bells and whistles don’t come cheap and the hefty price tag of US$8.5 million per unit has made exporting tough. However, there has been one taker. In 2008, Turkey evaluated this tank against the Leopard 2 and Leclerc. Part of the consideration was that Turkey wanted technology transfers so it could build its own variant. The performance levels were clearly close enough — and South Korea sufficiently pliable with technology transfers — that Turkey chose the K2 to be the technological basis of its Altay tank project. For around US$300 million, Seoul transferred technology, sample components and tooling to Ankara. Interestingly, like South Korea before, Turkey is stuck at the powerplant phase and its Altay tank has yet to reach full production. Faced with unique threats and a terrain that is not exactly tank friendly, South Korea adapted technology from all over the world, as well as its own innovations, to create a weapon customized to its unique needs and environment. In the process, Seoul designed a pretty good tank that has taken the lemons of its geography to make lemonade.

History and Foreign Parts South Korea's K2 Black Panther Tank

South Korea’s K2 is a formidable tank that is built for Korea's terrain. Ed Kim wrote in The National Interest: ““The South Korean army has peculiar needs. For one, just across the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea possesses one of the largest tank armies in the world. In this cauldron of densely packed military forces, both sides share a peninsula that is also very mountainous. During the Korean War, many battles were fought in places such as the Punchbowl, Pork Chop Hill, Old Baldy, Bloody Ridge and Heartbreak Ridge, just to name a few. Any weapon built specifically to exploit the peninsula’s terrain would have an edge. So, when South Korea produced its first domestically designed tank, Seoul took the mountainous terrain into full account. [Source: Ed Kim,The National Interest, October 25, 2019]

“South Korea started to think about modern main battle tanks in the late ’70s when North Korea began fielding T-62s with 115-millimeter guns — outmatching Seoul’s M-48 Pattons and their 90-millimeter guns. Thus, the United States gave South Korea permission to domestically assemble a modified Abrams tank termed the K1. The K1, like the original Abrams, first sported a 105-millimeter gun. However, the K1 is smaller than the Abrams and it has a diesel rather than a gas turbine engine.

“The K1 also has an uncanny, superficial resemblance to the larger American tank, so much so that U.S. troops stationed in Korea nicknamed it the “baby Abrams.” But South Korea owns very little of the technology behind the K1. Eighty percent of the components came from other countries, chiefly the United States. So while the K1 — which is still in service — outclasses anything the North Koreans have, South Korea wanted a new, domestically designed tank that would surpass any foreseeable North Korean threat. Furthermore, the South Koreans wanted to own all the technology so they could export it.

“The result was the K2 Black Panther. Development started in 1995 and cost US$260 million. In the end, South Korea designed a tank that on paper appears to be at equal, if not better than, the specifications of current NATO tanks. To achieve this, the Koreans looked all over the world for inspiration, technology and know-how — and combined it all into a formidable machine that is distinctively Korean.

“From Germany, South Korea developed its own version of the Rheinmetall 120-millimeter L55 gun, which is a full 1.3 meters longer than the 120-millimeter L44 caliber gun used on all Abrams tanks and older Leopard 2s. With a longer gun comes greater internal pressure, so the L55 gun has superior muzzle velocity. From France, South Korea adopted its own version of the Leclerc’s autoloader. Shells are loaded from the back of the turret, via a machine gun-like belt, allowing it to fire 15 rounds a minute — if rounds are continuously fired and not accounting for target acquisition, reacquisition and lazing. The tank’s fire control system is a technology transfer from France’s Thales, so it is likely again using some Leclerc technology. As an advanced fire control system it is highly automated so even Korea’s conscript crews can learn it quickly. Once a target is acquired, the gun and turret can automatically track it without further human intervention.

South Korean Air Force Hardware

In the mid 2000s, the South Korean Air Force had 540 combat-capable aircraft, including 210 fighters and 283 fighter ground attack aircraft. In 2009, the U.S. delivered 40 F-15 jets to South Korea.

According to Reuters: In 2010, Seoul asked Washington to sell it US-made RQ-4 Global Hawk spy planes. The South's military had originally planned to introduce the unmanned spy drones by 2015 but decided to speed up the deployment of the world's most advanced reconnaissance planes to strengthen its intelligence abilities, according to the source. At the same time, South Korea will buy 60 stealth fighter jets earlier than scheduled, a senior official at the defence ministry was quoted by Yonhap as saying. Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing's newly designed F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by the European consortium are expected to compete for the order estimated at 10 trillion won. South Korea has purchased 60 of Boeing's F-15 fighter jets under the first two stages of the fighter modernisation programme, code-named F-X since 2002. [Source: Reuters, March 8, 2011]

The Korean Air Forces uses American-made F-16s and American-designed, Korean-assembled plans KF-16s. Most of its main jet fighters are KF-16s. They are constructed primarily by Samsung Aerospace,

In the late 1990s, South Korea’s four largest aerospace companies — including Samsung Aerospace, Hyundai Space & Aircraft and the aerospace division of Daewoo — joined to form one company whose primary mission was to spend US$20 billion to build a completely South Korean-made fighter.

Military Aircraft Used by South Korea

Total Aircraft in 2016: 1,451
Fighters/Interceptors: 406
Fixed-Wing Attack Aircraft: 448
Transport Aircraft: 348
Trainer Aircraft: 256 [Source: globalfirepower.com]

Fighter- Attack Aircraft
F-15E Strike Eagle
F-4 Phantom II
F-16C/D Fighting Falcon
F-5E Tiger II [Source: combataircraft.com]

Transport Aircraft
BAE 748
C-130 Hercules
Trainer Aircraft
A-37 Dragonfly
T-50 Golden Eagle

SA.332 Super Puma
AH-1 Cobra
UH-1 Huey
CH-47 Chinook
MD-500 Defender
KA-27 Helix
UH-60 Blackhawk
Special Purpose Aircraft
S-2 Tracker
P-3 Orion

South Korea Sign Deals for 40 F-35 Jets for US$7 Billion

In 2014, Reuters reported: South Korea signed a deal to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets for about 7.34 trillion won (US$7.06 billion) for delivery in 2018-2021. South Korea had earlier confirmed its decision, when it became the 10th country to choose F-35 fighter jets to replace aging warplanes and strengthen its defense against North Korea. "We have agreed to acquire 40 jets within the total budget and reflect all the terms negotiated during the 2013 competition," South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration said in a statement after months of tests and negotiations. [Source: Reuters, September 24, 2014]

“The additional orders will lower the estimated unit cost of each of the 3,000-plus F-35 fighter aircraft to be bought by the United States and other governments in coming years. Lockheed, engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, and other suppliers are investing heavily to drive down the program's projected US$400 billion cost.U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon's F-35 program manager, reassured Seoul that a June engine failure would not affect the quality, price, delivery date and safety of its jets, which South Korea is viewing as a sort of guarantee, one person said.

Lockheed said initial deliveries of the South Korea jets would begin in 2018, when the first South Korean pilots will also arrive for training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. The company said the agreement includes a substantial "offset" package, including a military communications satellite that will be launched into orbit and then operated by South Korea, as well as significant technical support for South Korea's K-X program to develop its own domestic fighter jet. One of the sources said South Korea would sign a follow-up contract with the United States to allow basic maintenance of the jets within South Korea. The sources were not authorized to speak the media.

“South Korea initially planned to spend 8.3 trillion won to buy 60 jets, but reduced the order to 40 jets last year after dropping an option to buy Boeing Co's (BA.N) F-15s in favor of jets with stealth capabilities.

South Korea Weapons Imports and Exports

South Korea, China and Thailand are among the world's top ten weapons importers.The top foreign weapons supplier for South Korea is the U.S. Some domestically-produced systems are built under U.S. license; Germany has been the second largest supplier of arms since 2010. (2019 est.) = Top weapons importers in 2002: 1) China (US$3.6 billion); 2) South Korea (US$1.9 billion); 3) India (US$1.4 billion) and 4) Oman (US$1.3 billion).

In 2008, South Korea's yearly overseas arms sales topped US$1 billion for the first time and officials said the country aim to soon be one of the world's top 10 arms exporters. Reuters reported: South Korea's biggest exports in 2008 included self-propelled guns, aircraft and naval vessels with its main customers being Middle Eastern states and ally the United States, the Defence Acquisition Programme Administration said in a statement. [Source: Reuters, December 29, 2008]

“South Korea had been increasing its sales to developing countries in Africa and Latin America, the agency said without naming specific buyers. South Korea is looking to sell US$3 billion worth of arms by 2012 and be one of the world's top 10 arms exporters in the next few years, Yonhap news agency reported defence officials as saying. The Defence Ministry would not confirm the report.

The military is hoping the main drivers in weapons exports will be its next generation K-2 tank and T/A 50 supersonic fighter-trainer developed by its aerospace industry with help from Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), Yonhap said. "We should think in terms of how much of the market share we take, rather than amounts," it quoted Colonel Lee Hyun-soo, a senior official in the export trade, as saying.

“Over the past several years, South Korea has sought to improve its weapons technology to boost its deterrence against North Korea, which has a numerical superiority in troops but antiquated weapons systems. The military has found increased opportunities for exports as it has improved its weapons.

South Korean Arms Industry in the Mid 2010s

In 2006, Bryan Harris wrote in the Financial Times: “In South Korea, the business of war is booming. Military exports have soared nearly 1,100 per cent since 2009 as the nation’s arms manufacturers thrive off growing global instability, competitive pricing and the re-emergence of demand for conventional weapons of warfare — the country’s speciality. Now, analysts believe the country is on track to overtake China as the region’s leading arms exporter by the end of the decade. Globally, South Korea is in a good spot,” said Paul Choi, head of research at CLSA Securities Korea. “[Its] structural growth in defence equipment is already ahead of its own target. By 2020, it will pass China to become Asia’s arms powerhouse.” [Source: Bryan Harris, Financial Times, December 4, 2016]

The boom is being fuelled by rising geopolitical tensions in Asia and eastern Europe. China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea has prompted the region’s emerging markets, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, to devote more to defence, but with a keen eye on price. Here, South Korea’s arms exporters, including Korea Aerospace Industries and Hanwha Techwin, have proven extremely competitive, often sweetening deals with the transfer of technology. The nation also carries little geopolitical or historical baggage and can cater to the rising demand for weaponry in the Middle East, Indian subcontinent or Southeast Asia with less sensitivity than some of its nearest neighbours. “Trucks and submarines to Indonesia, comms equipment to Iraq, ships to the UK...South Korea has a diverse industry and is selling to a wide range of users,” said Ben Moores, a senior defence analyst at IHS Markit. “China, meanwhile, is dependent on Pakistan and Sri Lanka.”

In 2015, South Korea exported US$871 million of equipment — up from US$73 million in 2009. For 2016, Mr Moores expects the total to surpass US$1.2 billion. China’s arms exports, in comparison, declined from US$1.9 billion in 2013 to US$1.6 billion last year. IHS Markit predicts Beijing will drop out of the world’s top 10 ranking next year. “South Korea has put its money in the right places and made investments in strategic weapons, not national vanities,” he said.

“The country has booked orders worth more than US$3 billion in each of the last three years, promising flush income in the years to come, according to the official Defense Acquisition Program Administration. Shifting attitudes back in favour of conventional armaments such as artillery — weapons that South Korea has been honing for decades in its stand-off with Pyongyang — have also played a role.

“Russia’s invasion of the Crimea sparked a surge in demand, with eastern European and Scandinavian nations now lining up to negotiate with Hanwha Techwin for its self-propelled artillery, said Mr Choi, author of a recent report on Korean defence. “The company is very competitive [on price],” he said. “Historically, the Korean government accounted for about a quarter of artillery demand, so it has big economies of scale. The prices of its German competitors are about twice as high.”

“However, for Seoul, much rests on Korea Aerospace securing an upcoming deal to provide 500 the U.S. Air Force. The company’s T-50 jet was developed with the help of US group Lockheed Martin, strengthening its chances of winning, said Mr Choi. And if it does, US allies will likely follow suit with orders. But there are clouds on the horizon. Shares in Hanwha Techwin, Korea Aerospace and Lig Nex1, a manufacturer of anti-missile radar equipment, all plunged in late October when a political scandal engulfed the country’s conservative president, Park Geun-hye. Investors fretted she might be replaced with a liberal leader, who would be less inclined to devote funds to the world’s 10th largest military budget. The gloom was shortlived. The U.S. of Donald Trump, who said he could withdraw the 30,000 or so US troops in South Korea, sent shares soaring about 10 per cent.

South Korean Laser Weapons, Attack Drones, and THAAD Missile Defense Systems

In 2017, Kim Gamel and Yoo Kyong Chang wrote in Stars and Stripes: The Ministry of National Defense said Friday it plans to develop laser technology capable of shooting down North Korean drones by next year. South Korean military officials have estimated Pyongyang has some 300 drones capable of surveillance and around 10 that could conduct attacks with weapons, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. The ministry said in a statement that it has begun work on a laser weapon system that could intercept small drones along with a wireless power transfer system to improve operational capabilities. A ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the interception technology would be ready by next year while the overall system would be completed by 2021. South Korea claims several unmanned aerial vehicles sent by the North have been found in recent years south of the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula. North Korea has denied ownership. Drones raise concerns because their relatively small size and ability to fly low allows them to more easily avoid radar detection or interception. [Source: Kim Gamel and Yoo Kyong Chang, Stars and Stripes, January 6, 2017] . In 2017, Reuters reported: The United States has started to deploy attack drones to South Korea, a U.S. military spokesman said days after it began to deploy an advanced anti-missile system to counter "continued provocative actions" by isolated North Korea. The drones, Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) coming to South Korea are part of a broader plan to deploy a company of the attack drones with every division in the U.S. Army, the spokesman said. "The UAS adds significant intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to U.S. Forces Korea and our ROK partners," United States Forces Korea spokesman Christopher Bush said in a statement. The Gray Eagle is a remotely controlled attack drone made by U.S.-based General Atomics. They will be stationed at Kunsan Air Base, 180 kilometers (112 miles) south of Seoul, Bush said, and would be permanently based in South Korea. [Source: James Pearson, Reuters, March 13, 2017]

On March 7, the United States deployed the "first elements" of the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea, despite angry opposition from China. Once fully deployed in South Korea, a THAAD battery could theoretically use its radar to see and monitor activity beyond North Korea, deep into Chinese territory. Russia also worries the deployment could compromise its security, and said it would lead to a stalemate on the Korean peninsula.” The presence of THAAD on South Korean saol has been a contentious political issue in South Korea and created friction with North Korea and China.

Bunker Busters and Sub-Killing Torpedoes

In 2016, there were reports that South Korea had deployed 40 bunker buster bombs to counter threats from North Korea. Ryan Pickrell wrote in the Daily Caller: Multiple Korean news agencies, some citing the South Korean Air Force, claim that 40 Taurus KEPD 350 “bunker buster” missiles were delivered earlier in December and sent to the K-2 Taegu Air Force Base. [Source: Ryan Pickrell, the Daily Caller, December 12, 2016]

“Experts say these missiles are accurate enough to be dropped through Kim Jong-un’s office window, NK News revealed. A total of 170 Taurus KEPD 350 missiles are expected to be deployed to the peninsula by next year. The missiles will reportedly be loaded onto F-15s. The missiles have a range of about 300 miles and are one of the best weapons the South has against North Korea’s underground facilities. South Korea’s MND released its bunker buster bomb deployment plan in March. The missiles are a part of a US$28 billion defense plan to counter North Korea’s nuclear program. The Taurus KEPD 350 can be used in surgical strikes against hardened, high-value targets.” North Korea has published numerous criticisms of South Korea’s purchase of bunker buster weaponry.

In 2011, Chosun Ilbo reported: The Navy will deploy Korean-made Hongsangeo (Red Shark) "submarine-killer" torpedoes on the Navy's top-end Aegis destroyer. "The Navy installed a torpedo launch system on the King Sejong the Great, a military source said.The Hongsangeo is an anti-submarine missile that is launched vertically to avoid detection by enemy submarines and to increase its range. It is dropped by parachute near the intended target. After release, the torpedo falls into the water and independently searches for the target. [Source: Chosun Ilbo, August 15, 2011]

“The Agency for Defense Development spent W100 billion (US$1=W1,081) over the nine years until 2009 on developing the Hongsangeo. It has a longer range and much higher accuracy than light torpedoes launched by conventional vessels or aircraft. "Deployment of the torpedo, which is launched vertically and attacks enemy submarine up to 30 kilometers away, will drastically improve anti-submarine operations capabilities in both the East and West Seas," another military officer said. The torpedoes, which measure 5.7 m by 0.38 m, weigh 820 kilograms and cost about W2 billion apiece, will also be deployed on the Aegis destroyer Yulgok Yi Yi sometime late in 2011.

Mines in South Korea

There are an unknown number of mines planted in South Korean soil. By one estimated there are about 1.2 million of them. There are also many planted in North Korean soil. As of the late 1990s, there were around 2 million stored mines in South Korea, compared to 11 million in the United States. Soldiers and civilians in South Korea periodically get their legs blow off by mines. The South Korean government's mine removal is slow and victims are rarely compensated. Both the United States and South Korea have refused to join 150 other nations in signing an international treaty to ban land mines.

The main reason the United States has not signed a treaty banning land mines, it has said, is because of North Korea. "Without the land mines, the capacity for the forces in the North would be certainly eased to roll through this area to downtown Seoul," United States defense secretary William Cohen said in the late 1990s while visiting the area near the North Korean border..

In 2009, AFP reported that South Korea will deploy remote-controlled mines along the DMZ by 2013, a defense ministry spokesman said Bids have been invited for the development of the new mines called “spider bombs,” the spokesman said. “The development is part of our plans to slash the number of troops, a move which will lead to fewer soldiers patrolling sensitive areas,” the spokesman said. [Source: AFP, January 27, 2009]

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The Korean peninsula, experts say, remains one of the world's most land-mine-choked regions. Millions of the devices were laid by both sides during the Korean War. For decades, as the stalemate dragged on, South Korea set even more mines as a precaution against invasion, and it continues to keep a vast stockpile of the devices. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2009]

Victims of Land Mines in South Korea

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The devices' versatility is lethal: Made of both metal and plastic, some mines are designed to explode twice, once at ground level and again after bouncing 6 feet into the air. South Korean military officials decline to comment” on the issue “other than to say they provide mine victims with emergency care and some follow-up treatment. They contend that the devices play a defensive role in the continuing standoff with North Korea. Unlike in other former war zones, the mines remaining here are in secure areas labeled as hazardous zones, where intruders proceed at their own peril, military officials note. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2009]

▪“Activists estimate that about 1,000 civilians nationwide — mostly poor, uneducated farmers who live in the rural towns along the 151-mile-long DMZ — have been hurt or killed by some of the 1.2 million mines buried there. For their part, victims say their government has deserted them, offering little or no compensation for their injuries. But what's worse, they say, is that many were treated harshly, often verbally reprimanded for their calamities. "These mines were supposed to kill the enemy, but instead they're killing innocent people," Park said. "How can they blame us? Why didn't they clean up their own mess after their war?" [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2009]

Land Mines in a Small South Korea Farming Community

Land mines have taken a toll on Haean, a farm community of 1,400 people south of the DMZ. Since 1953, dozens of Haean residents have been killed or maimed when they stepped on mines. The victims include a farmer killed this year and another who lost part of his leg in October while searching the mountainside for medicinal plants. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2009]

Reporting from Haean, John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As she rubs the stump where her left ankle used to be, Park Choon-young recalls her life in this town that she calls a cursed place, a no man's land where the very ground is fraught with peril. Countless land mines planted here, she says, have wreaked an incredible personal toll: The petite 84-year-old widow lost two sons and a grandson to explosions after they accidentally detonated mines while walking in the dense woods outside town. About four decades ago, Park also stepped on a mine in a farm field. Now she limps about on a recently fitted prosthesis that cuts into her swollen flesh, raising raw and bloody welts. "I'm old now, my withered leg is getting skinnier," she said, wiping away tears as she huddled beneath a blanket on the floor of her one-room hovel. "It's getting so cold. My leg hurts when it's cold."

“Just half a mile south of the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, this isolated farming community of 1,400 residents has become a realm of the walking wounded. Perhaps tens of thousands of land mines — menacing reminders of the Korean War half a century ago — still litter the picturesque valley of birch treesand terraced fields, which is known as "the punch bowl" for its sloping, concave shape. The area was the scene of some of the most savage hand-to-hand fighting of the 1950-53 war, including the battles of Bloody Ridge and Heartbreak Ridge, as both sides fought for the towering vantage point of the surrounding Kumgang mountains. For many residents, the violence has not ended.

As part of postwar rebuilding efforts, the government offered cheap land to attract settlers to battle-ravaged areas such as Haean, activists say. Park Choon-young moved to Haean 50 years ago, when her husband died and left her with five children. Land was cheap here. Back then, villagers used metal detectors to carefully scour for mines on their farms. They disabled the devices and sold the parts. They were so successful that the military asked many to conduct mine searches rather than use the more inexperienced soldiers.

“The region is divided into three areas, Park and others say: the hazardous zone, where mines are known to be present; a probable zone; and a so-called safe zone. But the lines often blur. Summer rains wash mines from the mountain's northern slope. "They settle on farms, in stream beds, along the roadside," Park said. "No place is safe." Poverty forces villagers to wander into the mountains — even to cordoned-off areas — in search of food and firewood, Park said. They know the dangers, but after some time passes without an accident, they start to trust the land again. Slowly, they get braver. Then another explosion will occur. Or someone will find a deer carcass with its legs blown off. Once, a town official picked up a mine in a field. It exploded in his hand and gouged out an eye.

Victims of Land Mines in South Korea in a Small Farming Community

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “one by one, the accidents happened. It was like Russian roulette: Who would be hit next? Park's turn came in 1967. She was picking vegetables on her small farm when she spotted some greens growing near a drain. She reached down and a mine exploded, taking her left foot. After she recuperated, she continued to work the farm using crutches. What choice did she have? But she never felt safe again. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2009]

In October, Kim Eun-man lost his leg in an area that he said had been proclaimed safe. Military officials offered no compensation and instead marked off the field with warning signs, Kim said. At the Haean senior center, Kim Ok-ja pulled herself across the floor like an infant. A land mine had shattered her left hip. She would like to leave the area but is too poor to move. "If only I'd known what awaited me," said Kim, 74, "I would never have moved here." Paek Choon-ok, 72, nodded in agreement. She walks with a cane now, having lost her right leg 12 years ago while picking vegetables on the mountain.

Years earlier, her 8-year-old son was killed searching for scrap metal in the forest. No one has offered her financial help. "There is an unspoken message that you have to suffer this on your own," she said. "They say, 'No one forced you to go to that forest.' And so I tell myself, 'Be quiet and suffer. No one wants to hear your story.' "

Haean administrator Jeong Chung-seob acknowledges that few people have looked kindly on land mine victims here. "Many feel they should be punished for entering restricted areas," he said. "But that stand is softening." Not quickly enough for Park Choon-young. Three years before her oldest son and a grandson were killed in 2001 while hunting rabbits, another son was maimed by a mine. After 10 years, he succumbed to his injuries. Park says she misses her boys, all three of them, as well as her foot. She rues her decision to move to Haean. Her face is wrinkled, puffy from crying. "I'm all alone now," she said. "I have nothing."

Mine Removal and South Korean Government Refusal to Take Responsibility

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In 2000, the military began removing mines in heavily populated areas but quickly found the process — conducted by soldiers — cumbersome and expensive, says a report this year from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. know where many devices are hidden. From 2006 through 2008, the military removed only 11,570 land mines, the report says. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2009]

“For years, a succession of military dictatorships forced settlers to sign agreements assuming blame if they stepped on a device, relieving the government of responsibility. And in recent years, the military has not been forthright about the civilian toll the land mines have exacted, activists say. In fact, as recently as 1997, officials said there were no civilian victims and that there were no mines south of the DMZ. "The government simply did not want to let the nation know there were so many land mines," said Moon Eun-young, secretary-general of Global Peace Sharing Korea, a coalition of groups opposed to land mines. "That's when our group started to look for victims. When we found them, we told them, 'This is not your fault.' " "Victims were afraid to complain," said Kim Ki-ho, head of the Korea Research Institute for Mine Clearance. "It only brought trouble."

“Although more recentgovernment administrations claim to have established a process for victim aid, the program has served few. Only seven civilian land mine compensation claims have been successful since 2002, according to the 2009 report on land mines. For years, a national bill to offer aid to past victims such as Park has failed to pass, forcing many to wait for government aid. "One lawmaker's aide asked me, 'Why is your group fussing when victims are quiet and doing nothing?' " Moon said. "You have to understand that these victims are at the bottom. Mentally, financially, they have nothing. Worse, they have lost legs." Meanwhile, the government's mine removal program moves slowly forward. "If they keep to this current pace," Kim said, "it will take 375 years to be rid of all the mines."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.