The military expects to make up for dwindling troop numbers with unmanned equipment and combat robots by the mid-2020s.
Seoul's defense reform program envisages dwindling service personnel over the next decade due to the low birthrate, downsizing the standing army from 618,000 this year to 500,000 in 2022. It hopes to make up for any shortfall with state-of-the-art automated equipment.
For the Army, the slack can be taken up by unmanned reconnaissance vehicles, surveillance drones, unmanned turrets for K-9 self-propelled howitzers, mine detection robots, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear reconnaissance vehicles.
Unmanned surveillance vehicles are expected to be combat ready around 2025, and the military says they can replace some 570 ground troops.
Technology for unmanned K-9 artillery turrets that will load and aim the howitzers is expected to be complete in three years' time and can substitute for some 1,900 infantrymen and Marines. Mine detection robots will be perfected by around 2027 to do the dangerous work of 1,140 personnel.
The Navy is going to deploy unmanned surface vehicles that have already passed initial tests last year and will be combat-ready by 2025. They will be particularly used in dangerous areas like the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, or in bad weather.
The Air Force hopes to make up for manpower losses with unmanned antiaircraft guns and air defense radar systems.
Where humans are not as yet expendable, the military could replace some drivers and PX personnel with civilians.
Once implemented, the robots will do the work of 37,000 personnel.
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