South Korea military enhances role of reservists

South Korea military enhances role of reservists

Felix Kim

To “maximize” the fighting power of the 3.1 million-strong military reservists of the Republic of Korea (ROK), also known as South Korea, ROK’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) is launching the new Mobilization Force Command.

The move comes in response to a shrinking number of standing forces, explained ROK Defense Minister Song Young-moo, pictured, in a speech on the 50th birthday of ROK’s Armed Forces, reported Yonhap, the government-affiliated ROK news agency.

“The new command has been principally designed to defend and deter against threats by the North,” said Lee Il-woo, director of the Korea Defense Network, who spoke with FORUM from his office in Seoul.

“The North may eventually seek the so-called fourth-generation warfare such as psychological war or insurgency tactics,” Lee said. “To cope with this kind of warfare, we need military forces. But under the reform scheme of the MND, the number of active-duty Soldiers will decrease to around 370,000. This number of Soldiers can hardly conduct the modern warfare or effectively respond to the threats or the combat in rear against the North. To minimize the combat power vacuum left by the reduction, the new command will use the reserve forces as part of the efforts to make them elite reserve forces.”

Control of ROK’s reservists was originally the province of the Army’s headquarters, overseen by the MND, Lee explained. Under this older system, mobilization of reservists was a process left to different rear command structures, which according to doctrine would move the reservists to the front when required. In practice, however, the process lacked clear leadership.

“The new command has a control power, which can oversee the reserve forces regularly and mobilize the reservists in case of emergency,” Lee said. “The command has been created to streamline the previous process to get reservists fully ready for action.”

Mobilization Force Command will be located at the headquarters of the Third ROK Army in Yongin, Gyeonggi province, according to Yonhap, and will be commanded by a two-star general.

ROK is in the midst of “Defense Reform 2.0,” Lee added, which aims to continue earlier reform efforts. At the core of this reform are measures to reduce full-time personnel and to enhance combat readiness and power, he emphasized. This means a reduction in the number of active-duty Soldiers and officers, but one that can be compensated for by a nimbler reserve force, one that is already strong in number.

In his speech, Defense Minister Song emphasized the importance of modernization of training systems, facilities and equipment used by the reservists as a complement to the new command.

Enhancements, however, come at a price.

“Securing enough personnel and budget is the biggest challenge for the new command,” Lee said. “The new command needs at least three two-star generals including a commander. Although the new command has been launched, fewer than 100 officers are working for the command. The lack of the personnel cannot effectively fulfill the task as a control tower.”

The budget for reserve forces will not be sufficient to maximize them, according to MND’s stated objectives, he said, adding that the reserve funding allotment accounts for less than 0.01 percent of the total national defense budget.

“With this budget,” he concluded, “it is very difficult to effectively train and manage reserve forces and purchase the new equipment. These two problems should be tackled first.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.