The Best Weapons Are Useless if Strategy Is Inept

      December 01, 2010 13:06

      The National Assembly's Defense Committee has approved a W300.5 billion supplementary budget the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration requested for emergency weapons procurement after North Korea's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island (US$1=W1,156).

      The JCS and DAPA had asked for W263.6 billion for weapons but raised the amount to W455.6 billion at the request of the Defense Committee. The committee then approved a kind of halfway house. The military plans to use the money to buy K-9 self-propelled howitzers, precision guided weapons, mid-range GPS guided bombs, bunker-buster missiles, Swedish anti-artillery radars and unmanned aerial reconnaissance drones to be mounted on naval vessels. The weapons will be stationed on or near South Korea's five West Sea islands.

      The weapons upgrades are necessary to demonstrate South Korea's will to protect the islands. But cutting-edge weapons alone are not enough to achieve that aim. A passive defense strategy that seeks to deliver only a minimum response to enemy attacks will render the high-tech weapons virtually useless. The entire framework of South Korea's military strategy must be shifted to transform the five West Sea islands into strategic military bases that can be used to immobilize enemy troop advances.

      As South Korea was caught off guard when North Korea attacked the Navy corvette Cheonan in March, so the latest artillery bombardment on Yeonpyeong Island came completely out of the blue, and there is no way of telling when, where and how North Korea will strike next. The military needs to closely scrutinize other weak points than the five West Sea islands too.

      Hoarding cutting-edge weapons on Yeonpyeong and Baeknyeong islands could just prompt North Korean special forces to launch a surprise landing and hijack the equipment. The Marines stationed on Yeonpyeong Island braved fierce North Korean shelling to return fire and moved their fallen colleagues to safety. This was possible only through hard training. Deployment of cutting-edge weapons on the West Sea islands requires a shift in military strategy, and soldiers must be trained again and again so that they will react instinctively in emergency situations.

      Sixty years have passed since the ceasefire that halted the Korean War, and our troops, who have not seen combat since then, have grown rusty. Defense minister designate Kim Kwan-jin lamented, "The military has become a bureaucratic organization." The reason huge amounts of taxpayers' money are used to maintain a military is to defend the country in a possible war. The future of a nation could hinge on a single battle. But the attack against the Cheonan and on Yeonpyeong Island only eight months later made the South Korean public skeptical of the military's sense of responsibility to defeat the enemy and ensure the fate of their country. It is difficult to feel totally confident that hundreds of billions of won worth of military hardware would significantly boost our national security.

      The military needs to hone its rapid response capacity on the assumption that a war could erupt at any moment. After North Korea fired 400 artillery rounds at the Northern Limit Line in January, South Korea stationed anti-artillery radars in the area. But a few months later they failed when the North launched the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong. That must not happen again.

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