May 13, 2010:
South Korea, alarmed at what appears to be the North Korean use of a Yu-3 type torpedo to sink one of their warships, has undertaken to reform their armed forces to better deal with tactics like this. North Korea officially denies having anything to do with the loss of the 1200 ton corvette Cheonan, but most North Koreans accept the fact that North Korea did the deed, and northerners are proud of that. Examination of the salvaged wreckage made it clear that it was an external explosion, using military grade explosives, that sank the ship and killed 46 sailors on March 26th. North Korea was believed to have done this avenge earlier skirmishes that led to the sinking of North Korean warships.
The reforms are meant to prepare South Korean forces to better deal with these North Korean tactics. This includes coping with the large force of commandos and small submarines North Korea has created. For decades, North Korea has been sending commandos and agents south, landing them from these small subs. North Korea has also assassinated South Korean officials and civilians in other countries. South Korea tolerated this until now, but the sinking of the Cheonan crossed a line, and the South Korean government wants to develop ways to strike back.
For the last decade, the South Korean military has been preparing to deal with collapse in the north. Last year, the government made public what many have suspected for several years now. If North Korea attacks, South Korea is prepared to go north. This is no surprise to those who have been observing the South Korean armed forces development after the end of the Cold War in 1991. During the same time, the North Korean armed forces have declined because of a bankrupt economy and no money for replacing obsolete equipment, or for training. Meanwhile, the booming economy in the south led to the growth of domestic arms industry, and the re-equipping the South Korean military with modern, and locally made, weapons.
Over the last two decades, South Korea has developed, and produced in large numbers, their own equivalents of the U.S. M-1 tank (the South Korean K-1 and K-2), the U.S. M-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (the South Korean K-21) and the U.S. M-109 self-propelled 155mm howitzer (the South Korean K-9), and much more. The South Koreans used the American equipment as models, and then built on that.
South Korea also manufactures an Aegis destroyer (the KDX III class), a new class of frigate (FFK) and a light fighter/trainer jet (the T-50). South Korea offers most of this new gear for export, at a substantial discount to what their U.S. equivalents would cost, and backs them up with the South Korean reputation of producing sturdy and reliable industrial goods (everything from large ships to tiny micro chips). This provided South Korea with a decisive military edge over its aggressive northern neighbor, North Korea.
South Korea is also in the midst of a 15 year plan to transform their army from a large force of conscripts, to a smaller, high tech force containing many more, higher paid, volunteers. The south sees this, the "American approach" as superior and proven.
The southern generals also believe that the North Korean military is in terminal decline. Over a decade of famine and extreme poverty has caused severe reductions in maintenance and training in the North Korean military. This has sharply lowered the combat capabilities of the northern force. Corruption and poverty has increased unrest and insubordination up north. In response to all that, South Korea staff officers have quietly been drawing up plans on how they would move into the north. This would happen either in response to an attack from the north, or, a collapse of the communist police state government up there. But the northerners have not cut back so much on their elite commando forces, including all those small submarines.
The new reforms are meant to deal with a change in North Korean tactics, which now include making bold, if undeclared, attacks on South Korea. North Korea has shown that it will not go quietly, and the enraged South Koreans are not willing to stand idly by and just tolerate the losses.