Park Jong-dal, center, commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, answers lawmakers’ questions during an annual audit of the agency at the National Assembly, Thursday. The parliamentary inspection of government offices will continue until later this month. / Yonhap
By Jung Sung-ki
Former President Roh Moo-hyun's ``politically-charged'' push to drastically cut the military service period is expected to help aggravate manpower shortages and combat readiness, a lawmaker said Thursday.
During a National Assembly audit of the Military Manpower Administration, Rep. Kim Song-hoi of the governing Grand National Party (GNP) called Roh's plan a political tactic to solicit support from young voters in the presidential election last December.
He said the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, an affiliate of the Ministry of National Defense, told the Roh administration that any reduction of service period would not be feasible at least until 2009 and a two-month reduction from the 24-month mandatory service beginning 2011 would be appropriate.
But Roh rejected the recommendation and pushed for cutting the service period by six to seven months in stages from January 2008, Kim said.
As a result, the Navy and Air Force are facing manpower shortages this year since most conscripts choose to serve in the Army which has a shorter service period than the other two services, he said.
Under Roh's initiative, dubbed ``Vision 2030, 2+5 Strategy,'' announced last year, the service period would be reduced by six months for the Army and Navy in stages by 2014. The period for the Air Force would be shortened by eight months.
Currently, the compulsory service period is 24 months for the Army and Marines, 26 months for the Navy and 27 months for the Air Force.
Critics argue the reduction of service period would inevitably affect the nation's combat readiness and fan manpower shortages, since Defense Reform 2020 calls for cutting the country's troop strength by 190,000 to 500,000 by 2020.
The Roh administration laid out a package of plans to fill the possible manpower gap.
Included in the plans was the hiring of 40,000 salaried volunteers. Those who want to remain in the military for an additional year after their mandatory period are allowed to serve in the military with an annual salary of about 15 million won.
The voluntary forces would mainly do jobs requiring special skills such as operators of radar, guided missiles and multiple rocket launchers.
The idea, however, has drawn criticism. Opponents say the plan needs a budget reform. In addition to 1.7 trillion won for Defense Reform 2020, at least 1 trillion won will be needed to pay these ``salaried service members,'' according to experts.