The South Korean military is among the best in the world, and it is the largest part of the force that will “fight, tonight” if North Korea attacks, said a US Forces Korea official speaking on background.
The official spoke to reporters traveling with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford is here to participate in the Military Committee Meeting with his South Korean counterpart Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo.
Much of the discussion in the Military Committee Meeting is on the military capabilities and capacities that the United States and South Korea bring to the ability to “fight, tonight.”
By itself, the South Korean military is an excellent force. When it is combined with US forces it is world class, the official said.
North Korea is a dangerous state, the official said, noting the North Korean military gets the lion’s share of resources in the country. And, while North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is working to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, North Korea’s conventional forces are a worry, as well, he said.
The North has much of Seoul — South Korea’s capital city with 25 million people — within range of artillery over the demilitarized zone, the official said. The North has 950,000 service members on active duty and another 600,000 reserve personnel.
South Korean Military
The South Korean military is extremely capable, the official said. The United States and South Korea are strongly tied to one another with US assets aiding the South Koreans and vice versa. The two nations train to the same standards, the official said, and use the same battlefield tactics, techniques, and procedures.
“From a person who has worked with a lot of different countries, I put them at the high-end of capability,” the official said of South Korea’s military. “I wouldn’t stretch it to say it is an absolute replacement for a US capability, but combined it is very strong.”
South Korea has a formidable force of its own with about 625,000 service members on active duty and about 3 million in reserve, he said. South Korea has military conscription.
The South Koreans also have an economy to buy and maintain modern military equipment, the official said.
North Korean Military Capabilities
North Korea’s conventional military capabilities “are in the decline,” the official said, “because of the economy, because of their austerity.”
North Korea’s aircraft are old, as are its tanks and armored personnel carriers, the official said. North Korea’s navy has a number of submarines, but it is uncertain how capable they are, he added.
Just comparing capabilities, the official said he’d South Korea’s military capability “way above that of the North.”
But the North has the numbers and “quantity has a quality all its own,” the official said.
“I do not dismiss the conventional threat from the North,” he said. “But the [North’s] unconventional threat — the nukes, the missiles, cyber capabilities, special operations forces — are growing.”