(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 3, 14-16)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea aims to raise defense spending by an annual average of 6.8 percent over the next five years, with a focus on securing "overwhelming" capabilities to counter North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats, according to the defense ministry Wednesday.
The ministry announced the first midterm defense blueprint under the conservative Yoon Suk Yeol administration launched in May, amid tensions caused by the North's missile launches last week and this week's drone infiltrations across the inter-Korean border.
The blueprint for the 2023-2027 period features various defense reinforcement schemes, including securing more midsize submarines equipped with ballistic missiles, additional stealth fighters and a plan to keep the number of active-duty personnel at the current 500,000.
The ministry hopes to spend 331.4 trillion won (US$261 billion) during the five-year period -- 107.4 trillion won for improving defense capabilities and 224 trillion won for managing troops, equipment and facilities.
It aims to increase the country's defense budget, which stood at 54.6 trillion won this year, to 57.1 trillion won for next year, 61.4 trillion won for 2024, 66 trillion won for 2025, 70.9 trillion won for 2026 and 76 trillion won for 2027.
During the period, the average annual increase rate amounts to 6.8 percent. A defense spending plan is subject to parliamentary approval.
From next year through 2027, the ministry hopes to increase the annual budget for strengthening defense capabilities by an average of 10.5 percent and that for force management by an average of 5.1 percent.
The blueprint contains a series of schemes designed to secure "overwhelming" "three-axis" deterrence capabilities, which consist of the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, an operational plan to incapacitate the North Korean leadership in a major conflict; the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike platform; and the Korea Air and Missile Defense system.
The schemes include procuring additional stealth jets to bolster "real-time" strike capabilities against moving targets, and deploying tactical surface-to-surface missiles to enhance capabilities to destroy hostile tunnel targets.
The ministry also plans to secure additional midsize submarines equipped with ballistic missiles to enhance "surprise" strike capabilities as well as "non-kinetic" means, such as "blackout" bombs.
In an effort to build a "multilayered" missile defense system, the ministry plans to run ballistic missile early warning radars and radar systems on 8,000-ton Aegis destroyers to strengthen "all-directional" detection capabilities.
The ministry also seeks to complete the rollout of Cheongung-II medium-range surface-to-air missiles and deploy some advanced long-range surface-to-air missile (L-SAM) interceptors.
Moreover, it plans to secure core technologies -- required for the development of the counter-rocket system, called the low altitude missile defense (LAMD) -- by 2026.
To bolster counter-drone capabilities, the ministry seeks to carry out four major projects estimated to cost 560 billion won in total. They include the deployment of a laser weapon system.
For the "watertight" monitoring of key military targets, the ministry hopes to deploy multiple reconnaissance satellites and ensure their frequent revisits over the Korean Peninsula.
It also aims to further develop an artificial intelligence-based combat system employing both manned and unmanned defense platforms with an aim to minimize potential battle casualties and enhance operational efficiency.
On the force structure, the ministry plans to maintain the number of active-duty military personnel at 500,000. The figure, which stood at 618,000 in early 2018, dipped to 500,000 this year due to a decline in personnel resources caused largely by the country's low birthrate.
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