Key defense mission to go to Korean military

Posted in Koreas | 11-Apr-05 | Author: Kim Min-seok and Brian Lee| Source: Joong Ang Daily

April 11, 2005 - In another step in the shift of defense responsibilities from the U.S. to the Korean military, Korean forces will take on the mission of countering long-range North Korean artillery fire this year, perhaps as soon as August, a military official said.

"The South Korean military has successfully conducted a couple of drills regarding the operation of the systems involved in counterfire missions," a senior Korean military official said yesterday. "Lately, our operational ability has greatly improved, and we expect a handover from the U.S. military by August."

Neutralizing the North's long-range artillery - counterfire, as it is known - is one of the 10 military missions that are scheduled to be gradually assumed by the South Korean military as it takes on more responsibility for defending the country against potential attacks from North Korea, the raison d'etre for the half-century U.S.-Korea military alliance.

Military analysts call counterfire the most important element of a response to an attack from the North. Currently, that mission falls to the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, which operates 30 multiple launch rocket systems and 30 M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers. Korean forces' recent training has focused on the use of a command system known as C4I, which integrates and relays intelligence collected by spy planes and radar stations to the counterfire artillery units, another Korean military official said.

"Getting used to the C4I command and control system is the most important part. Now that that is done, we are ready to assume the missions," the official said.

In another development, the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported Saturday that much of the U.S. 1st Battalion, 52d Aviation Regiment, stationed in Korea, will be relocated to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, by June. Of the 450 soldiers in the regiment, about 300 will go to Fort Wainwright, as will eight of the regiment's Chinook helicopters. Twenty-four helicopters and C-12 Huron fixed-wing aircraft will go to other bases in the United States, the newspaper said.

U.S. officials say the reduction of its forces in Korea is part of a global restructuring of its military. Seoul and Washington agreed last year that 12,500 U.S. troops, a third of the contingent here, would be pulled out by 2008. President Roh Moo-hyun has been calling for a fully self-reliant Korean military within 10 years.