In observing the coverage of the next lap of the intra-Korean escalation and periodically answering journalists’ questions, the author would like to pay particular attention to the important issue of the media environment being awash with information on the DPRK missile launches, or concerning North Korea’s sixth nuclear test that will allegedly take place shortly. At the same time, the media is failing to cover events developing in the South in the same direction.
Under these developments, any layman would have a persistent feeling that while one of the countries of the Korean peninsula is constantly arming and threatening peace, the other is taking some kind of counter measures and not contributing to the aggravation of the situation. However, the actual situation is quite different.
It is worth recalling here that the South Korean military budget exceeds the North Korean one 25 times on average, and that at least 10 times a year, South Korea conducts large scale military trainings dedicated to attacking the North. Therefore, it is worth observing an increase in South Korea’s military capacity against the background of the global community’s focus on North Korean missiles, and even here, WITHOUT mentioning THAAD, something that the audience might find disturbing.
Thus, in addition to placing THAAD in Northern Seoul, a battery of the Patriot PAC-3 air-defence missile system shall also be installed. According to a representative of the South Korean government, THAAD is designed to protect the territory of the country located south of the capital, while the PAC-3 shall strengthen the missile interception system in the area surrounding Seoul. In comparison with the previous version – the PAC-2, which hits ballistic missiles with its warhead fragments by exploding near the target, PAC-3 destroys ballistic missiles by means of kinetic interception, that is, directly hitting the target.
This is not the only step in revising the missile defence system, which will be reoriented from simply being able to repulse air strikes to providing defence against ballistic missiles or a mass launch of missiles or cluster bombs by the North. The establishment of the Allied Command of the South Korean and US missile forces comprising three South Korean and one American brigade is being discussed. The South Korean brigades shall have the M-SAM (middle-range surface-to-air missile) Cheolmae-2, as well as long-range missiles that are under development. The American party will use the THAAD and Patriot systems.
Let us proceed from the defence weapons (conveniently) to the plain offensive weapon. The Kunsan Air Base operated by the United States in the North Jeolla Province will host a squadron of Grey Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles that will increase the capabilities of striking ground targets on North Korean territory. Each unmanned vehicle is able to carry four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and four GBU-44/B Viper Strike smart bombs. The vehicle may move at a speed of up to 280 kilometers per hour and operate in the air up to 30 hours.
By 2018, South Korean military officers intend to introduce into service 1,200 domestic KGGB air-launched missiles with a guidance system protected from artificial GPS jams often created by the North Korean side. This missile, equipped with the planning and correction module with folding wings, is able to change flight direction and manoeuvre while flying to the target. Therefore, it can accurately destroy any enemy target hidden behind an obstacle, including mountains or tunnels.
South Korea’s naval forces have obtained four AW-159 Wildcat anti-submarine helicopters aimed at combating ballistic missiles launched from submarines. They can be installed on combat vessels, including patrol boats carrying out anti-submarine and intelligence operations.
The vehicles obtained by the South Korean naval forces are equipped with anti-submarine torpedoes and Spike guided air-to-ship missiles that are used to perform targeted strikes on ships. They are also equipped with a radar with a 360 km range of detection and other high precision equipment.
In July 2017, the South Korean Navy shall obtain an additional four Wildcat helicopters. From 2020 to 2022, another 12 multi-role helicopters shall be supplied. The navy also plans to introduce additional high-efficiency maritime patrol aircraft into service.
To intercept a North Korean vessel from the air, the Wildcat helicopters require frigates or submarines, and soon, South Korea plans to adopt nine “214” type submarines equipped with an air-independent propulsion system capable of autonomously operating for more than two weeks and armed with Heson-3 cruise missiles of “sea-land” class as an addition to its fleet.
The navy has five Incheon class frigates with a displacement of 2,500 tons designed to intercept a North Korean vessel sailing at sea. In April, one more frigate shall be put into service. In addition, the navy shall obtain a 2,800 ton class frigate Tegu by the end of the year. This shall be put into service in 2018.
The cost of military development is also increasing: about 600 billion wons or 530.5 million dollars shall be invested in the development of the key armament system in order to combat missile and nuclear threats. The funds shall be used to develop 11 types of weapons, including a military observation satellite, L-SAM long-range missile of land-air type, unmanned vehicles, etc. Moreover, this year, a research centre shall be established for specialized military staff training.
Special attention is paid to cyber security: Sejong University shall open a laboratory on cyberwar-related issues, while the South Korea Institute of Defence Analysis is developing a plan to create a counter cyber attack system under the code name Cyber Kill Chain that will analyse the country’s current cyber security capability and the level of cyber threat from Pyongyang.
The system provides capabilities for monitoring and neutralizing attacks by hackers, and it is no coincidence that its name is similar to Kill Chain – a domestic missile defense system developed by Seoul that provides for the capability of detecting missile launches, flight analyses, determining the moment of interception and striking. Cyber Kill Chain shall be established in accordance with a similar principle, since a cyber attack also includes several stages: from providing a sufficient number of ‘zombie computers’ infected by a specialized malicious program, up to the penetration into the specified target via a zombie computer.
Finally, one of the important issues concerns the public mood in the Republic of Korea and the theoretical readiness for a military conflict. According to an opinion poll published by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of the Republic of Korea on January 3, 2017, 73.1% of respondents stated that they would join the army in case of war. In fact, such readiness is increasing as the level of education and income among the respondents is falling: forty-year-old people are more eager than the thirty-year-olds to fight. 71.4% of respondents believe that the situation with the country’s security is serious, while the number of young people (from 20 to 39) who stick to such an opinion has increased by 27%.
72.2% of respondents consider that the South-Korean and US alliance helps the Republic of Korea maintain security.
The results of an opinion poll conducted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in autumn 2016 are interesting, as they demonstrate an increase in the number of supporters of strict measures. Thus, in case of an emergency, 43.2% of South Koreans will support a preventive strike on the DPRK even if such measures could cause a large-scale war. For comparison, according to the results of a similar opinion poll done in 2013, only 36.3% of respondents supported such an idea. 60% of respondents answered that the Republic of Korea should obtain nuclear weapon, while 61% of respondents supported the placement of the American tactical nuclear weapon on the Korean peninsula.
It should be noted that US citizens are also expressing a somewhat bellicose mood: according to an opinion poll conducted by the Chicago Board of Foreign Affairs from June 10 to June 27, 2016, 80% of respondents found it necessary to tighten pressure on the North; 35% agreed on the need to strike North Korea’s nuclear facilities, and 25% supported a plan for the introduction of US troops to destroy them. Judging by a number of other opinion polls, Americans consider the DPRK to be the most unpopular country. This fact is evidenced by the results of an opinion poll conducted by the Gallup Agency from February 1-5, 2017. Only 11% treat North Korea positively (for comparison – Iraq got 19%, Afghanistan and Syria – 17% each, Iran – 12%). In another survey, the DPRK got 19 points out of 100, and was ranked the last.
What does all this information demonstrate? That military preparations and bellicose behaviour are typical not only for the DPRK. While planning measures to mitigate regional tension, we should always deal with both sides. Otherwise, in the pursuit to disarm one side and ignoring the other side’s capability to arm itself, we give a green light to a conflict that will be initiated a side other than the one that is constantly blamed by the public.
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”