|A Seahawk helicopter from the U.S. Navy is seen in this file photo, Wednesday. The US government has approved the sale of $800 million worth of helicopters to South Korea, the Pentagon announced Aug. 7, hours after President Donald Trump said Seoul had agreed to pay more for the U.S. military presence in the country. AFP-Yonhap|
By Kim Yoo-chul
In a bid to counter looming security threats at home and abroad, the country's defense ministry announced Wednesday it will increase its military budget by an average of 7.1 percent each year over the next five years.
In a statement, the ministry said it would spend up to 290.5 trillion won ($239.88 billion) by 2024 from next year. The budget has included 103.8 trillion won for strengthening defense-related capabilities and 186.7 trillion won for force management.
The revised plan was an increase of 19.8 trillion won compared to the 270.7 trillion won of the previous military spending plan for 2018 to 2020, according to the statement.
Seoul's latest push to increase its defense spending comes years after the country has continuously had to seek better ways to counter various types of conventional military threats from North Korea.
Specifically, the ministry said it will complete the deployment of nonlethal weapons such as non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse bombs (EMPs) by 2020. Also, the South Korean military plans to sharpen the capability of the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system.
The ministry said it will start drawing some conceptual designs next year for large "multipurpose" military ships which could carry an F-35B stealth fighter jet. Development of EMPswill be underway during the given period possibly to disable the North's electrical grid. The South Korean military plans to debut its first SM3 ship-to-air missiles that can be loaded on Aegis stealth destroyers, according to the statement.
"A bigger portion of the budget will specifically go to bulking up weapons. The announced military spending plan is South Korea's commitment to upgrading the capabilities of the country's defense forces," a ministry spokesperson told reporters in a briefing.
The spokesperson stressed that out of a planned 34.1 trillion won for projects aimed at better managing threats from nuclear warheads and other conventional weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the ministry will spend more to sharpen its independent military surveillance ability by purchasing two early warning radars and a SPY-1D radar for its Aegis stealth destroyers to improve the ships' radar sensitivity.
The military will soon begin upgrading key capabilities in F-15K and KF-16 jet fighters with an electric-based radar detection system, while talks to procure two more Peace Eye surveillance planes will be underway, soon.
"In order to back up the Navy's Aegis combat system, the military will deploy an additional Aegis destroyer, an advanced 3,000-ton submarine and large-sized multipurpose naval vessels. The military also plans to purchase more Air Force fuel tankers. We are aiming to reduce the number of total soldiers to 500,000 with an adjustment of their given roles," the ministry spokesperson said.
"South Korea is superior to North Korea in short-range ballistic missiles qualitatively and quantitatively. We will try to secure ample interception capabilities against new types of ballistic missiles North Korea has recently test-fired," the ministry said in the release.
North Korea recently resumed its missile tests in May by saying the provocations are its protest against the combined military exercises between South Korea and the United States. In particular, Pyongyang launched what Seoul described as "short-range ballistic missiles" five times over the past three weeks with the latest launches taking place Saturday.