20.09.2017 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

On the Military Activity of the Republic of Korea and its Allies


Against the background of the news on the military activity of the North, the untrained reader may have a misleading impression that the Republic of Korea is like an innocent schoolgirl whose throat is held at the edge of a knife by a North Korean hooligan, and that only an American military presence can save the Republic of Korea from imminent annihilation.

This is certainly not the case. But by how much is this not the case? Below, we shall examine both the modernization programmes of the South Korean armed forces and the number of military exercises undertaken in the spring and summer of 2017 “in response to the North Korean provocations,” apart from such high-profile ones as the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian or the Foal Eagle.

On March 22, the famous B-1B Lancer bomber took part in the joint South Korean-American military exercise, Foal Eagle. The bomber flew from the United States Andersen Air Force Base to Guam in the morning, and, together with F-15K and KF-16 fighter aircraft from the South Korean Air Force, conducted bombing exercises over the sea.

Later, two B-1B Lancers carried out a similar flight in July 2017 in response to the missile tests by Pyongyang, simulating the destruction of Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear facilities. The DPRK immediately labeled the exercise a “provocation that is bringing a nuclear war on the brink.”

On April 20, the active phase of the regular South Korean-American air exercise, Max Thunder, which has been held since 2009, was put into motion. This event saw the participation of about a hundred aircraft of the Seventh Air Force of the United States and the South Korean Air Force, which included fighters, ground attack planes, bombers, transport aircraft, air reconnaissance aircraft, and others. In the course of the exercise, bombing was carried out using high-precision weapons and antiaircraft defense systems.  

On April 23, a US strike force, led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, launched a joint exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force near the Philippines. Earlier, in March, the navies of the two countries also conducted two joint exercises in the East China Sea.

On April 25, the headquarters of the Eighth United States Army began redeploying from the Yongsan District of Seoul to the area of the city of Pyeongtaek, seventy kilometers south of the capital. This move is part of the plan for the redeployment of the United States armed forces throughout the territory of the Republic of Korea. The redeployment is planned to be more well-targeted and tactical, and is expected to ensure more stable conditions of service.  

On April 27, the RK and the United States conducted joint artillery drills on Wednesday, involving more than two thousand servicemen of the two countries, and about 250 pieces of equipment. In the course of the shooting, K-2 tanks, K-21 and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 20 helicopters, over 30 combat aircraft, including KF-16 and F-15K fighters, were used. The first such exercise was held in 1977, and the current ones became the ninth. 

On May 19, 2017, at the Rodriguez training ground in the city of Pocheon and at the American base Camp Stanely in the city of Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, Warrior Strike-7 maneuvers aimed at destroying the nuclear facilities of the North were held. This was the first time that a “Tokto” type universal amphibious assault vessel took part in the exercise, from which the special units of the RK and the United States worked out the actions for the landing of helicopter assault forces on the territory of the DPRK with a view to penetrating nuclear weapons storage facilities.

From June 5 to June 9, the American military contingent in the RK held exercise to evacuate its families in the event of an outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula. Last year, this exercise took place for the first time in seven years. The total number of members of the families of US military servicepersons stationed in the south of the Korean peninsula is 17 thousand persons. About 150 people are currently being evacuated from Seoul to the US base in Japan via Pyeongtaek and Daegu. 

On June 15-16, South Korean naval forces collaborated with the naval police and conducted regular exercise to ensure the defense of the Liancourt Islands in the East Sea. Such maneuvers aimed at reflecting the possible invasion of “external forces” have been held twice a year annually, beginning in 1986. 

From June 23 to June 25, the RK, the United States and Canada held joint naval exercise in the coastal waters of Jeju Island. The exercise programmes include the development of joint actions to impede enemy penetration, anti-aircraft defense, anti-submarine operations and the detection of ballistic missiles.

In early July, in response to the missile launches of the North, the South Korean and American armed forces conducted firing exercises in the East Sea. The South Korean “Hyunmoo-2A” long-range (covering a distance of 300 km) ballistic missile and the US tactical missile systems Army Tactical Missile System were deployed. This was accompanied by exercise in the East Sea, during which the situation of the sinking of an enemy ship with the help of missiles was simulated. Fifteen warships were involved, including the 3,200-ton South Korean destroyer Yang Manchun, the P-3C Orion anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft, Lynx multipurpose helicopters, as well as FA-5, KF-16 and F-4E fighters.

On July 11, the opening ceremony of the United States Eighth Army headquarters was held at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The ceremony began with the unveiling of a monument to General Walton Harris Walker, who commanded the American army in the early stages of the Korean War. The relocation of the Eighth Army headquarters from the Seoul district of Yongsan to the town of Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of the capital, is part of a joint plan with the RK for the redeployment of the United States armed forces scattered throughout the Republic of Korea. This plan has been implemented since 2003. The redeployment of medium and large contingents has been going on since 2013. The staff of the Eighth Army of the United States completed this process in June.

The Eighth Army of the United States is the main strike force of the United States contingent in the RK. It was formed in 1944 in the United States, and participated in the Pacific War. After the end of the Second World War, the Army was stationed in Japan. However, after the Korean War broke out, it was transferred to the RK. It currently comprises the 2nd Infantry Division, the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, the 1st Signal Brigade and the 65th Medical Brigade. The total number of servicepersons is 30,000.

On August 31, in response to the launch of the Hwasong-12 ballistic missile by the North, the air forces of the RK and the US launched joint exercises in which two American B-1B Lancer strategic bombers from the Guam base, four F-35B fighters based in Japan, as well as four South Korean F-15K fighters were deployed. In addition, a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker military transport aircraft was mobilized. The maneuvers took place in the Gangwon Province. For the first time, B-1B and F-35B appeared in the skies of the RK. The parties worked out the selective destruction of ground targets using the MK-84, MK-82 and GBU-32 bombs.

From September 5 to September 7, the maritime infantry of the RK conducted exercise to ensure the defense of the northwestern islands off the inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea. These were a response to the maneuvers of the special forces of the North Korean army to work out an attack on the South Korean islands of Baengnyeongdo and Yeonpyeongdo, which were held in late August under the supervision of Kim Jong-un. According to the command of the Marine Corps of the RK, personnel of the Sixth Marine Brigade, who were deployed on the island of Baengnyeongdo, participated in the exercise, while AH-1S assault helicopters, KAAV infantry fighting vehicles, M48A3K tanks, artillery and other combat equipment were used. During the exercise, a script was worked out detailing the attack that was to be launched on enemy forces on the island of Baengnyeongdo at various times of the day. The military attempted to work out as much detail as possible on all the possible options for the enemy’s actions. 

On September 12, the Air Force of the Republic of Korea conducted successful tests of the TAURUS air-to-surface cruise missile in the Yellow Sea. On September 12, the Air Force of the Republic of Korea conducted successful tests on the TAURUS air-to-surface cruise missile in the Yellow Sea. It is reported that this missile has a maximum flight range of 500 km, allowing, in the event of serious provocations, to hit important strategic sites of the North that are located deep behind the enemy lines. TAURUS employs stealth technology to ensure its stealthiness, as well as a GPS global positioning system with an accuracy within three meters even in the presence of radio interference. TAURUS is capable of penetrating concrete reinforcements three meters thick. These missiles constitute one of the key components of the South Korean missile defense system Kill Chain, aimed at applying a preemptive strike across the North. The TAURUS are supplied from Germany. 170 units have been scheduled for delivery by the end of this year, followed by another 90. 

On September 15, in response to another missile launch by the DPRK, South Korea launched two “Hyunmoo-2” ballistic missiles: one of the missiles flew 250 kilometers and hit a target in the Sea of Japan, while the second projectile landed in the sea shortly after launch.

Thus, in just six months, the Republic of Korea and its allies have conducted some fifteen different types of exercises, which, had the DPRK embarked on a similar project, would clearly have become the subject of allegations of provocations exacerbating the situation.

Moving on to the modernization of military equipment. On April 24, the Korean Defense Development Agency reported that the RK had completed the development of a new advanced radar that is able to detect artillery positions and track the trajectory of flight of a projectile. The installation automatically transmits the data to the artillery units, which can launch an immediate retaliatory strike. The enemy-artillery detection range of this newcomer is 1.5 times greater than that of the Swedish ARTHUR-K. The troops will be receiving the new radars starting next year, after which the two installations in the North-West Islands of the Yellow Sea will be able to provide the area with round-the-clock protection against the North Korean artillery and missile batteries located along the northern boundary line. 

The Navy of the Republic of Korea has also completed the development of new tactical guided missiles of the “ship-ground” class with a range of up to 200 km. Its warhead is segmented into several hundred fragments that are capable of destroying an area equal to two football fields. Besides this, the flight route of the missile can be controlled in real time, allowing for the avoidance of barriers and more precise targeting. The RK will begin mass-producing the new missiles next year, with the next-generation RK Navy frigates equipped with them.

In addition, experts insist on equipping ships with the multi-functional combat information and control system, Aegis, with SM-3 ground-to-air missiles with a maximum range exceeding 500 km.

On May 30, the South Korean military conducted the first successful test of an anti-tank guided self-guided missile with the tandem warhead “Hyungong”. The complex weighs 13 kg, and the rocket has a speed of 1.7 Mach and a maximum range of 3 km. Firing from the complex is possible at any time of the day and from any position. It can also be installed on armored vehicles. It has wings that expand after launch, thus ensuring a stable flight and missile target precision. The complex will be adopted for service in 2017.

On June 28, it was reported that the RK had successfully developed a 105 mm caliber howitzer that can be installed on a five-ton military truck. The system is equipped with the latest automatic fire control system and integrated navigation equipment. With improved firing and maneuverability features, it enhances the effectiveness of the action of infantry brigades, as well as their survivability in combat conditions.

On July 10, the RK navy acquired a sixth 1,800-ton submarine of the project “Chang Bogo-2” (aka Project 214). The vessel will be commisioned for service in December. The vessel is 65.4 meters long and 6.3 meters wide. The team consists of 40 people, and it has a speed of 20 knots. The submarine can go for ten days under water without refueling. The vessel is equipped with “Heson-3” class “sea-land” cruise missiles.

On July 14, the Defense Development Agency of the Republic of Korea for the first time presented the key components of the domestic radar with active electronically scanned array antenna (AESA) TPS-880, developed by the company LIG Nex1. This air defense radar has much more advanced characteristics than its predecessors, and it can track small North Korean drones. It is one of the main components of the promising South Korean fighter KF-X. The radar can also be installed on special transport equipment, which increases its mobility and efficiency. The new system will be commissioned into service by the beginning of next year, and will significantly enhance the capabilities of counter-battery fighting.

According to the agency, the radar consists of four components, including an antenna, a power supply unit, a data processing unit and a transceiver. The two components are being developed based on domestic technologies with the participation of the South Korean company Hanwha Systems, while the other two are being developed by one of the Israeli specialized companies. 

We should also note the adoption of the decision to move the Patriot anti-missile and anti-aircraft system from the area in and around the city of Daegu in the central part of the country to the region of the capital. This decision was made due to the fact that with the deployment of the THAAD anti-ballistic missile complexes in Seongju County, the security of the central and southern regions of the country has significantly strengthened. However, with a range of 200 kilometers, THAAD cannot fully ensure the protection of the metropolitan area of the capital, coupled with the fact that the Patriot anti-missile and anti-aircraft system is very effective in providing security against low-altitude SCUD missiles. Patriot will therefore be deployed to the region surrounding the capital before the end of next year.

The author believes that such a report for the half-year sufficiently refutes the perception of the insecurity of South Korea, and hopes that, in the case of another attempt by Western media to throw in information about the alleged “total helplessness of Seoul in the face of the Pyongyang blackmailers”, the audience will well remember these facts and details.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. (History), leading researcher 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”.