A six-wheel armored vehicle from Doosan Infracore
/ Courtesy of Defense Times
By Jung Sung-ki
The South Korean Army plans to deploy about 2,000 advanced wheeled armored vehicles beginning around 2013 to build rapid-response brigades modeled after U.S. Stryker combat brigades, a military source said Sunday.
The plan is a core part of the Army's efforts to transform itself into a slimmer but more mobile, network-centric force with increased firepower under the Defense Reform 2020 initiative with its operational focus shifting from a North Korean invasion to a counteroffensive or other forms of offensive action into North Korea, the source said.
The scheme is to be specified in a revised version of Defense Reform 2020 that will be unveiled in the coming weeks, he said.
``In the case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, wheeled armored vehicle brigades will play a leading role in advancing into North Korea, neutralizing key enemy targets, stabilizing North Korean society in captured areas or securing humanitarian aid, while mechanized divisions and corps consisting of sophisticated tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other artilleries back them up,'' the source told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.
The source apparently referred to ongoing moves by South Korea and the United States to develop a conceptual scenario to prepare for a collapse of North Korea into a full-fledged operational plan, following a swirl of reports on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's health setbacks.
The South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command drew up a conceptual action plan, codenamed CONPLAN 5029, in 1999 to respond to various types of internal instability in the North, including sudden regime collapse and mass influx of North Korean refugees.
Other contingency situations include a civil war provoked by revolt or coup, South Korean hostages being held in the North, natural disasters and insurgents' seizure of weapons of mass destruction if the regime is involved in a domestic crisis or suddenly collapses.
Maj. Gen. Rim Chi-cue, chief and director general of Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA)'s procurement programs management bureau, confirmed the move, saying a related procurement program is scheduled to begin by 2010 to equip the Army with about 2,000 high-tech wheeled armored vehicles.
Hyundai Rotem, Doosan Infracore and Samsung Techwin are competing for the program, Rim said. The companies are offering to sell their six-wheel armored vehicles with an average per-unit price tag of 600 to 800 million won, while the price is expected to go up depending on what weapons systems and equipment are to be installed on the vehicles, he said.
Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, a U.S. non-profit policy think tank, also recommended the South Korean Army procure more wheel armored vehicles to conduct a counteroffensive or other offensive action into North Korea should unusual situations occur in the North, including regime collapse.
``For the U.S. Army, adding armored vehicles has proven very important. Before the Iraq experience in 2003, the U.S. Army believed that counterinsurgency was primarily an infantry effort,'' Bennett, who regularly advises the South Korean Army on policy direction, said in an e-mail interview. ``But it has found that armored vehicles, including vehicles like the Strykers, protect its personnel, thereby reducing casualties. This is very important to military morale and sustainability.''
For example, he said, the U.S. forces in Iraq have almost always been at least 50% armored or mechanized or Stryker brigades as opposed to infantry, airborne or air assault brigades ― at times as much as 70%.
``The ROK Army force structure is still relatively focused on infantry units ― 17 of the 22 active duty divisions ― and may find a stabilization of North Korea very challenging after a counteroffensive or a North Korean government collapse,'' he continued, referring to the acronym of South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
``The ROK Army needs more armored vehicles for such an environment, including vehicles like the Stryker, and also armored trucks like the U.S. Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles ― even the support personnel need to be protected,'' he added.
Bennett said he would hold a conference for South Korean Army personnel on Oct. 21 at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul. The seminar is to address the Army's future challenges and potential changes in its operational requirements and missions under Defense Reform 2020, he said.
Under the 15-year military modernization program announced in 2005, the Army, which has largely been dependent on force strength, plans to deploy high-tech tanks and armored fighting vehicles that combine firepower and battlefield mobility. The service plans to cut more than 20 of its 47 divisions and turn many of the remaining ones into mechanized units.
The indigenous K2 Black Panther tank and K21 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) are the core of a plan to develop mechanized forces.
The amphibious K2 tank, unveiled last year, carries a three-person crew and a domestically built 120mm/55-caliber stabilized smoothbore gun that can fire high-explosive, anti-tank multipurpose rounds.
Its 1,500-horsepower engine can power the tank to 70 kilometers per hour on paved roads and 50 kilometers per hour off-road, according to the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), the main developer of the tank, and it can cross rivers as deep as 4.1 meters.
The tank is currently undergoing field trials. About 680 K2s will be produced beginning 2011 to replace the Army's K1 and aging M47/48 tanks.
The 25-ton K2 IFV, jointly developed by the ADD and Doosan Infracore, has a 750-horsepower turbo-diesel engine and 40mm auto cannon capable of shooting down helicopters and slow-moving aircraft. It can engage in C4I warfare using digital communication, GPS receivers and inter-vehicle digital links.
The armored vehicle can travel as fast as 70 kilometers per hour on paved roads and cross a river at a speed of 7.8 kilometers per hour with the help of the Water Jet propulsion system. About 900 K21s will be deployed in stages beginning next year.
In a bid to help upgrade the Army's artillery capabilities, the DAPA approved July 22 a plan to develop an indigenous multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) with a range of 60 kilometers.
The new MLRS will replace an aging fleet of 130mm MLRS, having a range of 36 kilometers, that have been operational since 1981, DAPA officials said. The MLRS development and production would cost about 1 trillion won, they said. Mass production will start by 2013.