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By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- In light of the massive attacks on the websites of major broadcasters and banks, South Korea's defense ministry said Monday it will increase cyber warfare forces and develop various deterrence scenarios in cooperation with the United States to better deal with emerging threats.
The ministry briefed President Park Geun-hye on the 2013 policy plan along with other security goals and assessments of North Korea's threats. Tensions on the peninsula have come to a boiling point in the wake of Pyongyang's saber-rattling over joint military drills held in the South.
The ministry said it will develop deterrence methods in response to various cyber attacks to enhance preparedness against an unprovoked attack both in times of war and peace.
Calls to step up cyber warfare forces have risen, as recent attacks on broadcasters and banks -- the largest attack in two years -- brought fresh attention to potential cyber attacks in South Korea. The identity of the person or group behind the attacks is still under investigation, but military officials had speculated about possible links with North Korea, as it has repeatedly threatened to launch various attacks on Seoul in light of annual joint drills with the U.S. and new sanctions for its nuclear test.
"We will cooperate with the U.S. to prepare measures in cyber policy, technology and information," a senior ministry official said.
South Korea has about 400 personnel under the Cyber Command, a special unit launched in early 2010. The North is known to be running a cyber warfare unit composed of 3,000 elite hackers who are trained to break into other computer networks for information and spread computer viruses.
With the rising threat posed by the communist country, South Korean and U.S. forces will draft a customized deterrence strategy as early as July to test and review during the next joint drills, which kick off in late August. Militaries of the two nations will sign the plan in October, when their defense chiefs have an annual meeting called a Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) scheduled in October in Seoul, officials said.
Bilateral consultations have been underway to come up with a strengthened nuclear deterrence plan since last year, but Pyongyang's third nuclear test in February has brought new urgency to prepare a tailored strategy to counter the defiant communist state under its young leader Kim Jong-un.
South Korean military leaders had said they were considering destroying the North's nuclear facilities in advance in case of an imminent nuclear attack against South Korea.
The ministry also reaffirmed its commitment to develop an alternative joint operation structure to replace the Combined Forces Command, which is expected to be dissolved when Seoul regains its wartime operational command (OPCON) at the end of 2015.
"The ministry will prepare the OPCON transition to meet the December 2015 deadline and establish a new joint operation body," the ministry said in a statement.
The two sides will sign an alternative operation body in a meeting of military chiefs slated to meet in Washington next month, which will be finalized in the SCM.
In addition, the ministry vowed to speed up its planned deployment of ballistic missiles as well as an advanced missile interception system -- the so-called "kill chain" -- which is designed to detect, target and destroy missiles.
South Korea has been putting forth efforts to develop longer-range missiles after Seoul and Washington in October of last year agreed to nearly triple its missile range to 800 kilometers to better deter North Korean threats.
In addition, the military will push to adopt military spy satellites to keep closer tabs on the communist country and integrate its own missile defense shield program, dubbed the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD).
South Korea currently operates Arirang-3, a multipurpose satellite, which provides geographical information on the Korean Peninsula, including North Korea's missile and nuclear test sites. However, it still relies on the U.S. for much of its intelligence due to the commercial satellite's limited vision and longer rotation period.
With adding reconnaissance satellites to its monitoring capabilities, the military hopes to increase its surveillance of major North Korean military facilities to better anticipate aggressive actions by the communist state.
The two Koreas are still technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
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