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(LEAD) Military expanding special forces capability to strike key N.K. facilities, leadership

All Headlines 17:08 October 12, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS army officials' further comments in 6th para, last para)

SEOUL, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military said Wednesday it will greatly expand the capabilities of its special forces to strike key North Korean command facilities and its leadership in the event of a crisis.

In a parliamentary audit, the Army said it is striving to be ready to carry out independent special operations against the North's provocations, with a plan to secure hardware, such as the latest MH-47 series choppers, compact satellite links and advanced small arms.

"The Army is seeking to have a special operations unit capable of infiltrating (enemy territory), completing its given mission and coming back in one piece," Army Chief of Staff Jang Jun-kyu said during the audit held in the Army's Kyeryongdae military headquarters near Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul.

This undated photo image shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un against the background of a North Korean flag and a nuclear facility. (Yonhap)

The MH-47 series helicopter under consideration for deployment in the Army are variants of the battle-tested Chinook choppers operated by the South Korean and U.S. military that are designed for special operations. The helicopters equipped with airborne refueling equipment and a radar system that can detect topography, can carry 40 special forces troops and fly some 600 km into enemy territory, according to the Army.

As for the time frame for deployment, Rep. Baek Seung-joo from the ruling Saenuri Party said such equipment should be deployed "as quickly as possible" amid growing nuclear and missile threats from the North.

"We are stepping up our efforts to upgrade the capabilities of the C-130 cargo plane and other transport aircraft," Jang said.

Currently, the Army plans to secure the capability to carry out special missions by 2018.

In September when the North conducted its fifth nuclear test, the military said it was planning to create a special aviation unit capable of infiltrating the North's strategic military facilities and destroying them.

The Army's Special Warfare Command said in the audit that the creation of a special operation unit is also under consideration to independently carry out critical missions without the help of U.S. forces.

The missions could include the removal of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his leadership should a war break out on the Korean Peninsula.

"We are now heavily dependent on the U.S. for special operations involving aviation elements. In order to conduct independent operations, we will improve the functions of our own assets" in coming years, Maj. Gen. Jang Kwang-hyun, chief commander of the Army's Aviation Operations Command, said in the audit.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
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