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Mid-term defense program focuses on missile defense against N. Korea

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry submitted a 214.5 trillion won (US$192.6 billion) budget request for the 2014-2018 fiscal year to the parliament for deliberation on Thursday, which focuses on beefing up South Korea's missile program against North Korea's nuclear and missile weapons.

The budget proposal calls for 70.2 trillion won of the total, or 13.7 percent, to be used to purchase a missile shield program, including ballistic and cruise missiles as well as multipurpose commercial satellites and high-altitude spy drones in the next five years.

Seoul has been gradually building an independent, low-tier missile shield called the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) since 2006 by acquiring Patriot missiles and long-range early warning radars.

The KAMD involves an early warning radar as well as ship-to-air and land-based missile defense systems, arming Seoul with the ability to track and shoot down the North's low-flying, short- and medium-range missiles, with the help of U.S. early warning satellites.

The budget draft also includes the additional purchase of PAC-2 missile interceptors and upgrading the current system to PAC-3 to deter North Korean missiles.

After Pyongyang successfully launched a long-range rocket last December and conducted its third nuclear test in February, Seoul has been speeding up to establish a pre-emptive missile destruction system, so-called "Kill Chain," to detect and strike North Korea's missile and nuclear facilities.

The Kill Chain is designed to detect signs of impending missiles or nuclear attacks from the communist country and launch pre-emptive strikes to eliminate the threat by using its advanced cruise and ballistic missiles to support its present missile defense system.

North Korea is believed to have over 1,000 missiles with varying capabilities as well as multiple launchers that can shoot rockets, putting South Korea well within its missile range.

The budget plan comes as the South Korean military is seeking to enhance its warfare capability to deter North Korean aggression before it takes back its wartime operational control from Washington in December 2015.

Under the proposed structure, if a transition is completed as scheduled, the South Korean military will play a leading role, and American forces will offer support during a potential wartime situation, fighting side by side with their Korean allies.

"The government is pushing for major weapons procurement programs by securing an appropriate level of defense budget," Ju Chul-ki, the senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security, said in a Seoul defense forum on Thursday. "We are putting efforts to procure weapons to establish the Kill Chain to pre-emptively detect and strike North Korean missiles, and to establish the KAMD, which is capable of intercepting the enemy's missiles,"

In addition, each branch of the military is seeking to beef up its weapon systems against growing threats posed by North Korea.

The Army aims to develop the next-generation K-2 battle tank to replace aging K-1 and U.S.-built M48 tanks, and buy large combat helicopters in the next five years.

The Navy plans to build 5,000-ton destroyers, 1,800-ton submarines and landing platform ships to cope with rising tensions in Northeast Asia, in face of the ongoing territorial disputes between China and Japan.

The Air Force plans to purchase 60 next-generation fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s starting from 2017 as well as large carriers and aerial refueling aircraft to extend the range of its F-15K and KF-16 combat jets.

The military also plans to adopt the Green Pine early warning and fire radar-guided rockets to deter provocations by North Korea.

The mid-term budget plan also includes improving welfare services and doubling the salaries within the five-year term of President Park Geun-hye.

Under the proposal, corporals' monthly pay will rise to 195,800 won ($175) in 2017, up from 97,500 won for the 2013 fiscal year.

The move comes as Park promised to double soldiers' pay as an election pledge to appeal to them and their parents who have long demanded a pay raise for mandatory military service, which is required by law for all able-bodied men.

The current amount is roughly equivalent to three days of work, assuming an employee works eight hours a day at a minimum hourly wage set at 4,580 won.

The budget plan needs parliamentary approval before being implemented by the government in fiscal year 2014, which begins on Jan. 1.

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