By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry asked for a 4.5 percent increase in its budget for next year with a focus on strengthening the military's defense capabilities and improving service members' living conditions, officials said Tuesday.
The ministry said it has requested a defense budget of 55.23 trillion won (US$42.4 billion) for 2022, up from this year's 52.84 trillion won. The proposal is scheduled to be submitted to the National Assembly on Friday for approval.
Of the total, the ministry earmarked 17.34 trillion won for arms purchase and other projects to boost the country's defense capabilities, up 2 percent from this year.
Another 37.9 trillion won was set aside for running military forces, marking a 5.7 percent on-year growth.
The budget request comes as North Korea continues to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.
On Friday, an International Atomic Energy Agency report said it has detected "deeply troubling" indications that a key nuclear reactor at the North's main Yongbyon complex has been in operation since last month.
"We've reflected demands for reinforcing counter capabilities against nuclear and WMD threats as a top priority, and focused on improving service members' living conditions, as well as on expanding the research and development (R&D) budget to enhance the defense industry's global competitiveness," a ministry official said.
According to the ministry, 13.7 billion won will be earmarked to procure such assets as surveillance satellites and ballistic missile early warning radar systems, as well as to upgrade the Patriot missiles and the country's 3,500-ton Ulsan-class frigates.
The ministry has also sought 7.2 billion won for its plan to build a 30,000-ton-class light aircraft carrier with its own technologies by 2033.
Other budget items include 454 billion won for KF-21 fighter development; 421 billion won for a 3,000-ton next-generation submarine project; 11.2 billion won for ultra small-sized satellite development; and 18.9 billion won for an anti-artillery interceptor system.
The budget to purchase F-35A fighter jets fell to 2 billion won from this year's 1.2 trillion won as major payments were completed, the ministry said. South Korea began bringing in the advanced stealth fighters from 2019 to beef up air defense capabilities under a plan to deploy 40 units through this year.
As part of efforts to nurture the country's defense industry, the R&D budget for cutting-edge defense technologies will increase 13 percent on-year to 4.88 trillion won, while 87 percent of the budget for arms purchase will be spent domestically, the ministry said.
The government also plans to raise the average daily meal cost for service members from 8,790 won this year to 11,000 won after it came under fire for the poor quality of military meals.
With South Korea still reeling from the fourth wave of COVID-19, the ministry said it will spend 135.3 billion won next year to deal with the pandemic, such as on buying face masks, conducting coronavirus test and securing medical equipments.
The monthly wage for rank-and-file service members will also increase, with an Army sergeant expected to receive 676,100 won, up from this year's 608,500 won.
"We will continue investment to provide an environment for a more productive and healthy lifestyle in barracks," the ministry said in a release.
The national defense budget has been on a constant rise, from 20.8 trillion won in 2005 to 31.4 trillion won in 2011 and 40.3 trillion won in 2017. It surpassed the 50 trillion won mark for the first time in 2020.
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