Military of South Korea

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ROK Military
Ministry of National Defense
Military Manpower
Military age 20-30 years of age[1] (24-28 months mandatory service, depending on the military branch involved)
Availability 12,458,257[2] (2005 est.)
Fit for military service 9,932,026[2] (2005 est.)
Active troops 686,000 (ranked 8th)
Total troops 5,209,000 (ranked 5th)
Military expenditures
Amount $22.13 billion (FY 2006)
Percent of GDP 2.7% (FY 2006)

The South Korean military has grown from a understaffed and under equipped police force, in 1948, to one of the world's most advanced, well-trained, and well-equipped military forces. Faced with a determined North Korean armed force of approximated one million soldiers, South Korea has required all Korean men to serve two years in the military and also in the reserve forces following. In recent decades, with an increase the economic vitality, South Korea has developed the Army, Navy, Air force, and Marines to the level that they are capable of meeting and countering a North Korean attack by themselves. That has led to a rethinking of United States support in Korea, yet neither the South Korean government nor the U.S. want North Korea to make a mistake like they did in 1950, when they thought the United States would sit back and watch.


South Korea maintains one of the largest standing armies in the world, the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, or ROK Armed Forces (Hangul: 대한민국 국군; Hanja: 大韓民國 國軍; Revised Romanization: Dae-han-min-guk Guk-gun), consisting of the following branches:

  • Republic of Korea Army, ROKA (대한민국 육군; 大韓民國 陸軍)
  • Republic of Korea Navy, ROKN (대한민국 해군; 大韓民國 海軍)
    • Republic of Korea Marine Corps, ROKMC (대한민국 해병대; 大韓民國 海兵隊)
  • Republic of Korea Air Force, ROKAF (대한민국 공군; 大韓民國 空軍)

Although the National Armed Forces Organization Act stipulates that the ROK Navy includes the Republic of Korea Marine Corps, the ROKMC is a semi-autonomous organization that carries out much of its functions independently.[3]

Korea War Museum, Seoul, Korea

In addition to the Armed Forces, the South Korean government maintains the Republic of Korea Reserve Forces, ROKRF (대한민국 향토예비군; 大韓民國 鄕土豫備軍) and the Republic of Korea Civil Defense Corps, ROKCDC (대한민국 민방위대; 大韓民國 民防衛隊).

Created in 1948, following the division of the Korean Peninsula due to a failure of the Soviet Union to allow free and democratic elections in the north, as mandated by the United Nations, South Korea established a military force mainly with police function. The outbreak of the Korean War caught the South Korean forces unprepared, requiring the United Nations to intervene with U.S.-led forces. The South Korean military rapidly developed during the Korean War, suffering enormous causalities and loss of equipment. As the Soviets had armed North Korea, the United States armed and trained the South Korean military throughout the Korean War.

Following the declaration of truce between South Korea and North Korea, the South Korean military set in motion an accelerated program to build a strong, well-equipped military. As South Korea's economy expanded between 1953 to 1980, South Korea became increasingly less dependent upon the United States for equipment, training, and troops, benefiting from several government-sponsored technology transfer projects and indigenous defense capability initiatives. Currently the ROK Navy has embarked on a rigorous ship-building program to create a substantial blue-water navy by 2020. During the Vietnam War, South Korean marines fought alongside the United States, gaining the respect of both the locals and their enemies, earning the nickname as "Demon-hunters" by the Viet Cong.

Today, the ROK military forces maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic, often engaging in humanitarian and disaster-relief efforts nation wide as well. More recently, the ROK military has increased participation in international alliances, acknowledging its role and responsibility as the tenth economic power in the world in terms of GDP. The ROK military has participated in various peacekeeping operations across Africa, East Timor, and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ROK military invested in modernization since the 1980s, continuing to the present. South Korea enjoys of a mix of avant-garde as well as older conventional weapons. The Republic of Korea has one of the largest defense budgets in the world (though second lowest in East Asia), regularly making the list of top ten. Capabilities include many sophisticated American and European weapon systems, complemented by a growing and increasingly more advanced indigenous defense manufacturing sector. The website states that "in 1990, South Korean industries provided about 70 percent of the weapons, ammunition, communications, and other types of equipment, vehicles, clothing, and other supplies needed by the military."

Today, South Korea has a joint military partnership with the United States as outlined by the Mutual Defense Treaty signed after the Korean War. South Korea also takes part in regional as well as pan-Pacific national military war games and exercises such as RIMPAC and RSOI.

Republic of Korea Armed Forces

The Constitution lists four required duties; military service, taxes, education, and labor. Currently, the government drafts only males, although women can volunteer as officers.

Military service varies according to branch: Twenty-two months for the Army and Marine Corps, twenty four months for the Navy and twenty six months for the Air Force. Recently, significant pressure from the public has demanded either a shortening of the term or a switch to voluntary military service. All branches share a common rank-system, with different colors used to denote the different branches. (Army: Green & Black, Navy: White & Black, Marine Corps: Red & Yellow, Air Force: Green & Blue)


K1 main battle tank.

By far, the ROK Army (ROKA) has the largest standing force of the military branches with over 560,000 personnel as of 2004. That comes as a response to both the mountainous terrain native to the Korean Peninsula (70 percent mountainous) as well as the heavy North Korean presence, with its one million strong army, two-thirds permanently garrisoned in the front line near the DMZ.

The current administration has initiated a program of self-defense, enabling South Korea to fully counter a North Korean all out attack, without the help of the United Nations, within the next two decades. Formerly, the ROK Army had been organized into three army groups: The First Army (FROKA), Second Army (SROKA), and Third Army (TROKA), each with its own head quarters, corps, and divisions. The Third Army had responsibility for the defense of the capital as well as the western section of the DMZ. The First Army defended of the eastern section of the DMZ whereas the SROKA formed the rearguard. Under a restructuring plan aimed at reducing redundancy, the First and Third Armies have been incorporated into the newly formed Ground Operations Command (GOC), whereas the Second ROK Army has been converted into the Rear Operations Command (ROC).

The army consists of the Army Headquarters, the Aviation Command, and the Special Warfare Command, with eleven corps, forty nine divisions, and nineteen brigades, some 560,000 troops, 5,350 Tanks/Armored Vehicles, roughly 11,337 Artillery Systems, 7,032 Missile Defense Systems, and 13,000 infantry support systems. Equipment of the ROK Army include the older M47, M48, as well as the more recent, Korean-manufactured K1 and K1A1, hosting a 120 mm smoothbore gun.

The future replacement for the K1 MBT has been baptized the XK2 Black Panther (Korean: 흑표), which will be fitted with a German MTU 1500 hp Europowerpack engine, 120 mm main gun, an optional 140 mm smoothbore main barrel, and coaxial machine guns. The new tank will also feature radar equipment as well as all-bearing LASER detection system and reactive armor comparable to the American M1A2 and French LeClerc.

In addition, South Korea already manufactures the indigenous K-9 Thunder howitzers, which have been exported to Turkey, as well as the K200 series KIFV's which saw action in UN peacekeeping operations as part of the Malaysian peacekeeping forces. A variation of the K200, the KAFV's can be retrofitted to bear a 90 mm barrel or 40 mm grenade turret. The ROK Army also fields the mobile K-SAM Pegasus (Korean:천마), fitted with eight missiles that fly at maximum speeds of mach 2.6, and the K-30 Biho (Korean:비호) series, which feature a 30 mm twin gun system for self-propelled anti-aerial fire support.

Besides having vehicles of their own design as well as American models, the ROK Army also has several Russian-built AFVs, including BMP-3 IFVs and BTR-80 APCs, as well as T-80U MBTs. Although in active service with the Army, Korea purchased most of them to learn technology for ROK's XK2 MBT, such as the Explosive Reactive Armor blocks mounted on several Russian armored vehicles. The ROK Army continually purchases Russian equipment, as their recent addition of two BMP-3U IFVs hints. Other notable foreign equipment in service with the ROK Army includes the TOW ATGM launchers and Mistral MANPADS.


ROKS Chungmugong Yi Sunshin (DDH 975) and ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972) moored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The ROK Navy (ROKN) bares responsibility for conducting naval operations and amphibious landing operations.[4] As a part of its mission, the ROK Navy has engaged in several peacekeeping operations since the turn of the century.[5] The ROK Navy aims to become a blue-water navy by 2020.[5]

In 1995, Admiral An Byeongtae , the 20th Chief of Naval Operations, presented the vision of building a "blue ocean navy" for the future of the ROK Navy in his inaugural address.[6] In 2001, then President Kim Dae-jung, announced a plan for building up a Strategic Mobile Fleet.[7]

The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) title designates the highest-ranking officer (four-star admiral) of the ROK Navy. The ROK Navy includes the Republic of Korea Navy Headquarters, Republic of Korea Fleet, and Republic of Korea Marine Corps, a semi-autonomous organization. As a part of "Defense Reform 2020" proposed by the Roh Moo-hyun Administration, the ROK Navy has an obligation to reform the organizations under the Commander-in-Chief Republic of Korea Fleet (CINCROKFLT) by establishing a submarine operations command (fleet submarine force), a naval aviation operations command (fleet air arm), and a Mobile Flotilla.[5] Retrieved March 11, 2007.</ref>

The ROK Navy had about 68,000 regular personnel, including the 25,000 Republic of Korea Marine Corps personnel, as of 2006. Some 170 commissioned ships (total displacement of approx. 135,000 tons)[5] furnish the ROK Navy, including approximately ten submarines, seventy five patrol craft, and twenty auxiliaries. The naval aviation forces consist of about ten fixed-wing and fifty rotary-wing aircraft.[5]

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the ROK Navy launched the lead ships of newly developed classes: In 2002, launching the ROKS Chungmugong Yi Sunshin (DDH 975), a 4,500-ton destroyer; in 2005, the navy launched a new amphibious landing ship, the Dokdo (LPH 6111); in 2006, the ROK Navy launched the Sohn Won-yil (SS 072), an 1,800-ton Type 214 submarine with Air-Independent propulsion (AIP) system. The ROK Navy has undertaken several shipbuilding projects: Korean Destroyer Experimental (KDX) program, Frigate Experimental (FFX), Landing Platform Experimental (LPX), Patrol Killer Experimental (PKX), and Korean Submarine (KSS) program.

Air Force

The ROK Air Force (ROKAF) boasts a modern air force, fielding some 600+ combat aircraft of American design. In contrast, the North Korean Army has roughly 150-300 more aircraft, but mostly obsolete and some ancient types of Soviet and Chinese origin. Korea began a program for the development of indigenous jet trainers beginning in 1997. That project eventually culminated in the KAI T-50, used as a trainer for jet pilots, dubbed the "Golden Eagle" and currently exported to Indonesia. The modified A-50 compares to an armed version of the T-50, fitted with free-fall or precision missiles such as the AGM-65 Maverick.

Rhe KTX-2 and F-X represent replacement programs for the T-50 and A-50 respectively. The latter has been fulfilled by the Boeing F-15K.[8] The South Korean government announced plans to develop and manufacture helicopters to replace the aging UH-1 helicopters, many of which saw service during the Vietnam War. The program originally included plans for the development of both a civilian and a military helicopter. The government later revised the plan, giving priority to the utility helicopter program. Based on the success and experience of the civilian KMH (Korean Multi-purpose Helicopter), the government plans to develop the attack helicopter sharing a common configuration.

Marine Corps

The ROKMC (marine corps) maintains a jurisdictional command independent of the Navy. South Korean Marines have demonstrated their bravery and extensive knowledge of martial arts in combat, receiving respect from allies and enemies. During the Vietnam War the ROKMC earned themselves both the fear and respect of the Viet Cong, up to the point that the communists began to shun combat with the South Korean Marines. During the Vietnam War, they gained the nickname "Ghost-Catching Marines" or "Demon-hunters" (Korean: "귀신 잡는 해병대"). Korean Marines wear distinctive red name tags, a symbol of pride and honor. The ROK Marine Corps coined the motto, "Once a Marine, forever a Marine."


In the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, ranks fall into one of four categories: Commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer, and enlisted, in decreasing order of authority. Commissioned officer ranks further subdivide into "Janggwan"-level officers, "Yeonggawan"-level officers, and "Wigwan"-level officers. The commanding officers appoint "Wonsu" from the "Daejang" who have distinguished themselves. To date, no one has held the rank of "Wonsu" in the history of the ROK Armed Forces. The English titles serve as comparison with the U.S. Army ranks.

Commissioned Officers (장교; 將校; Jang-gyo)
장관 (將官; Jang-gwan)
원수 (元帥; Won-su) General of the Army
대장 (大將; Dae-jang) General
중장 (中將; Jung-jang) Lieutenant General
소장 (少將; So-jang) Major General
준장 (准將; Jun-jang) Brigadier General
영관 (領官; Yeong-gwan)
대령 (大領; Dae-ryeong) Colonel
중령 (中領; Jung-ryeong) Lieutenant Colonel
소령 (少領; So-ryeong) Major
위관 (尉官; Wi-gwan)
대위 (大尉; Dae-wi) Captain
중위 (中尉; Jung-wi) First Lieutenant
소위 (少尉; So-wi) Second Lieutenant
Warrant Officers (준사관; 准士官; Jun-sa-gwan)
준위 (准尉; Jun-wi) Warrant Officer
Non-Commissioned Officers (부사관; 副士官; Bu-sa-gwan)
원사 (元士; Won-sa) Sergeant Major
상사 (上士; Sang-sa) Master Sergeant
중사 (中士; Jung-sa) Sergeant First Class
하사 (下士; Ha-sa) Staff Sergeant
Enlisted (병; 兵; Byeong)
병장 (兵長; Byeong-jang) Sergeant
상등병 (上等兵; Sang-deung-byeong) Corporal
일등병 (一等兵; Il-deung-beyong) Private First Class
이등병 (二等兵; I-deung-byeong) Private

Overseas operations

About 2,500 soldiers operate in eight locations around the world as of 2007.[9]

UN peacekeeping operations.

Korean Military Nurse

South Korea has successfully participated in UN-sanctioned peacekeeping operations in East Timor, Somalia, Angola, and Western Sahara, as well as serving as Military Observers in the India-Pakistan border and in Georgia. In September 2006, President Roh Moo-hyun announced that the government of Lebanon had officially asked the Republic of Korea to form part of the UN Peacekeeping Forces poised for deployment in Lebanon following the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese Conflict. Final deployment awaits a confirming vote by the Kukhoe (National Assembly).

Peace-keeping operations in Iraq In August 2004, the South Korean government dispatched 3,400 soldiers to Iraq in support of nation-building initiatives and prompted by the beheading of South Korean citizen Kim Sun-il by Islamic extremists in Iraq. That force stood as the third largest in Iraq (surpassed only by the U.S. and UK), after the withdrawal of Spanish forces. South Korea currently holds responsibility for peace-keeping and reconstruction in the Arbil Governorate, located in the Kurdish Autonomous Region. The peace-keeping troops received the name Zaytun Division and Daiman Unit. Zaytun and Daiman respectively mean olive (a symbol of peace) and "always with you" in Arabic.

Reconstruction in Afghanistan At the request of the Allied Forces in Afghanistan, approximately sixty medics from the Dongui Medical Unit (Korean: 동의부대, Hanja: 東醫部隊) and 150 engineers from the Dasan Engineering Unit (Korean: 다산부대, Hanja: 茶山部隊) have been stationed in Afghanistan since 2002, to help with the reconstruction effort.[10] Among the soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, Yoon Jang-ho became the first South Korean soldier killed in action overseas since the Vietnam War.


See also

  • List of Korea-related topics
  • South Korea
  • Military of North Korea
  • KATUSA (Korean Augmentation to US Army)
  • United States Forces Korea (USFK)
  • List of military equipment of Republic of Korea


  1. CIA, South Korea: Military, CIA World Factbook.
  2. 2.0 2.1 This figure is from ages 20 to 49.
  3. Republic of Korea Marine Corps Official Website, "해병대 조직." Retrieved March 26, 2007.
  4. Republic of Korea Navy Official Website, "Duty of the ROK Navy." Retrieved March 10, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Ministry of National Defense Official Website, "해군작전사령부 창설 54주년..어제와 오늘 그리고 미래." Retrieved March 4, 2007.
  6., "21세기 통일한국의 大洋해군 전략." Retrieved March 8, 2007.
  7. Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library Official Website, "김대통령, 해군사관학교 졸업 및 임관식 참석말씀." Retrieved March 12, 2007.
  8. Boeing, Boeing F-15K Selected by the Republic of Korea as F-X Fighter. Retrieved August 15, 2008.
  9. Yonhap News, Snapshot on S. Korean troops operating overseas. Retrieved February 27, 2007.
  10. Dae-woong Jin, Korea vows to stay the course in Afghanistan, The Korea Herald. Retrieved August 15, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bennett, Bruce W. 2006. A Brief Analysis of the Republic of Korea's Defense Reform Plan. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. ISBN 9780833039552.
  • Huer, Jon. 1989. Marching Orders: The Role of the Military in South Korea's "Economic Miracle," 1961-1971. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313266485.
  • Korea (South). 2003. Participatory Government: Defense Policy 2003. [S. l.]: Ministry of National Defense, Republic of Korea. OCLC: 54385087.
  • Levin, Norman D. 2004. Do the Ties Still Bind?: The U.S.-ROK Security Relationship After 9/11. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp. ISBN 9780833035127.
  • Noh, Hoon. 2005. South Korea's "Cooperative Self-Reliant Defense:" Goals and Directions. Seoul, Korea: Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. ISBN 9788987417899.
  • United States. 2006. Revisions to the U.S. Global Defense Footprint: Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, One Hundred Eighth Congress, Second Session, Hearings held June 15, and 23, 2004. Washington: U.S. G.P.O. ISBN 9780160756399.

Flag of South Korea.svg
Republic of Korea Armed Forces
Republic of Korea Army seal Republic of Korea Army | Republic of Korea Navy Seal Republic of Korea Navy ( Republic of Korea Marine Corps seal Republic of Korea Marine Corps ) | Republic of Korea Air Force seal Republic of Korea Air Force


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