Republic of Korea military upgrades technology for future of defense

Republic of Korea military upgrades technology for future of defense

Felix Kim

Artificial intelligence (AI), big data, 3D printing, drones and personal combat systems are coming to the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to prepare the country for the defense landscape of tomorrow, announced ROK’s Ministry of National Defense (MND).

This high-tech military upgrade is part of a larger effort by ROK President Moon Jae-in’s administration to capitalize on the “fourth industrial revolution,” according to ROK’s Yonhap News Agency, “through combining various cyber and physical systems, developing cutting-edge technologies and eventually serving as a catalyst for the economy.”

“The Ministry of National Defense is seeking to reduce costs and raise efficiency in the military,” Lee Il-woo, director of the Seoul-based Korea Defense Network, told FORUM. “The ministry’s plan to adopt ‘fourth industrial revolution’ technologies reflects these efforts. The military’s move conforms to the changing battlefield and social and economic environment.” (Pictured: Republic of Korea Soldiers are equipped with fourth industrial revolution technology.)

Big data technology, MND said on August 9, 2018, will be used to predict the military’s logistics requirements, streamlining procurement and reducing waste. MND plans to achieve this in 2019 by integrating big data analysis infrastructure with the military’s integrated information system, removing guesswork and much manual stocktaking.

Increased efficiency is also driving the use of 3D printing for the supply and maintenance of military hardware.

“The introduction of 3D printing technology is expected to lead the production of core parts using metal 3D printers,” said Park Ju-kyung, director of the ROK Army’s Military Affairs Directorate.

Unmanned drones will be used to transport munitions beginning in 2018, Park added, with full utilization expected by 2024. The “personal battle system” known as the Warrior Platform is an initiative to maximize combat strength by upgrading 33 of the most relevant items used by infantry Soldiers, such as combat helmets, flak vests, combat glasses, battle dress uniforms, and ankle and knee protectors.

Lee Il-woo explained that the new technology is being introduced in a step-by-step process in line with MND’s Defense Reform 2.0, a sweeping program to revamp the ROK military to adjust to a declining population of potential conscript Soldiers and a smaller overall military, popular demand for better troop salaries and working conditions, as well as asset upgrades to deter and defend against threats, such as missiles and nuclear weapons, posed by North Korea.

“AI technologies for acquiring and processing big data will start to replace the decision-making currently done by commanders,” he said. “Such technologies can help the military find what will be the best weapons to beat the enemy.”

Fourth industrial revolution technologies could also bring ethical challenges, he observed, as AI starts to be used in target identification and command decisions.

“Although the military argues that AI-based systems will only play an advising role,” Lee said, “it will be difficult to do so in the real field because ‘dronebots,’ for example, are supposed to automatically engage in battle.”

ROK’s dronebots were first reported by FORUM in January 2018 as “a combat unit of weaponized drones” capable of both reconnaissance and attack.

Lee expressed assurances that such risks should be mitigated by adjustments to battlefield doctrine and methodologies. Park, likewise, emphasized the caution being applied to this “revolution.”

“In the future,” Park said, “MND will closely monitor military affairs through close consultation with relevant ministries and agencies, and plan to gradually increase the number of technology introduction projects in the fourth industrial revolution on the basis of these achievements.”

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