South Korea Military

South Korea is a country located in East Asia and is known for its strong military and defense. The Republic of Korea Armed Forces (ROKAF) is the military branch of the country and consists of five branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Special Forces. The total active personnel stands at around 672,000 with an additional reserve force of around 3.7 million personnel. South Korea has a higher defense budget compared to its GDP as it spends about 2.6% of its GDP on defense. The country also imports weapons from countries such as the United States, Japan, and China. South Korea also has strong ties with other countries in the region such as Japan and Taiwan which allows them to cooperate militarily when needed. As a result of this strong military presence in the region South Korea has become an important player in regional security issues and is able to maintain peace and stability within East Asia effectively. See naturegnosis to learn more about the country of South Korea.


The defense is based on close cooperation with the United States and has a preventive high preparedness in view of the geographical situation and the ongoing political situation in North Korea. It has long been organized with general military duty with an initial service of 26 months (fleet and air force 30 months). The United States has reduced and redeployed its 37,000 men stationed in South Korea to about 30,000 men, including an infantry division of 25,000 men and an air force of 8,500 men with 90 fighter aircraft. Small (staff and support) units belonging to the fleet and naval corps are also in place.

South Korea Army

The defense of South Korea consists of 687,000 men with a reserve of 4.5 million men and a semi-military organization of 3.5 million men. To see related acronyms about this country, please check ABBREVIATIONFINDER where you can see that SKR stands for South Korea. Decisions on major reductions and reorganizations are in particular regarding the reserve. The army of 560,000 men standing, of which 140,000 are conscripted, consists of three mechanized divisions, 19 infantry divisions, an airborne brigade and 60 attack helicopters. The element of specialty dressing is large; inter alia there are seven brigades for offensive operations in depth and three brigades for countermeasures against the opponent’s infiltrations. The fleet comprises 63,000 men, of which the navy corps is 28,000 men, with 20 submarines, 43 larger and 75 smaller battleships and ten amphibious vessels, etc. The navy has 16 combat aircraft and eleven armed helicopters. The Marine Corps is organized into two divisions. The Air Force comprises 64,000 men with 540 fighter aircraft and a state-of-the-art robotic air defense. Semi-military security forces for mainly coastal surveillance amount to 4,500 men. The equipment is modern and of domestic and American origin. Defense costs have decreased from 5.1 to 2.5% of GDP in 1985-2006. The tendency is that an increased part goes to the production of military equipment.

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South Korea participates in peacekeeping operations in seven states as well as with troops in Iraq and Kazakhstan. Discussion is underway with the US on the take-back of the units from Iraq. Sweden and Switzerland are part of the monitoring organization NNSC between North and South Korea and are located on the territory of South Korea.

South Korea has public service. First-time service was reduced in 2018 and is 18 months for the Army, 20 months for the Navy and 22 months for the Air Force. The total force figures for South Korea’s armed forces are 625,000 active personnel, with a reserve of 3 100,000 personnel (2018, IISS). In addition, 9,000 semi-military enter the coastguard, and a civilian defense of 3,000,000 semi-military. The US has a base and a strength of 28,500 stationed in the country.


The army has a workforce of 490,000 active personnel. Heavy equipment includes 2514 tanks (1484 K1, 100 K2, 850 M48 and 80 T-80), 540 storm tanks, and 2790 armored personnel vehicles. In addition, the army has 595 helicopters, of which 96 combat helicopters (60 Cobra and 36 Apache).

Air Force

The Air Force has a workforce of 65,000 active personnel. Material comprising 174 fighters of a F-5 Tiger II, 336 combat aircraft (59 F-15 Eagle, 163 F-16, 50 FA-50, 60 Phantom II, and four F-35 Lightning II), four AWACS aircraft, four SIGINT aircraft, 24 reconnaissance aircraft, 38 transport aircraft, 183 training aircraft (of which 80 T-50 can be used as light fighter aircraft), 49 helicopters, and 100 light and at least three medium- heavy drones.

The Navy

The Navy has a staff of 70,000, including 29,000 Marines. The fleet includes 22 tactical submarines, one amfibiekrigsskip of Dokdo class, three cruisers, six destroyers, 17 frigates, 32 corvettes, 69 patrol boats, nine mine sweepers, one mine-layer, four dock landing ships, 26 landing craft, and seven supply and support vessels. In addition, the Navy has 16 P-3 Orion patrol aircraft, five light aircraft, 49 helicopters, and 100 tanks.


The Coast Guard has a personnel force of 9,000 semi-military, 81 patrol vessels, eight landings, six aircraft, and 14 helicopters.

International operations

In 2018, South Korea participated, among others, in the UN operations in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 335 personnel, and in South Sudan (UNMISS) with 273 personnel and two observers.

South Korea’s foreign policy

South Korea’s foreign policy is strongly influenced by its relations with North Korea, and is particularly focused on international measures to halt the North Korean nuclear weapons program. In 2008, President Lee Myung Bak reiterated that the alliance with the United States, which in a defense agreement guarantees South Korea’s security, is the very cornerstone of the country’s foreign and defense policy.

USSR and China

South Korea has long banned all relations with communist countries, but this was softened by the so-called “northern politics” of the late 1980s. In 1990, the country gained diplomatic relations with a number of North Korea’s allies in Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union. In 1992, South Korea gained diplomatic relations with China, and trade between the two countries expanded greatly. In 1993, one third of all South Korean investment went abroad to China.

North Korea

Since 2003, South Korea has been one of the parties to the so-called six-party negotiations aimed at stopping North Korea from ending the nuclear weapons program. In June 2007, South Korea resumed food aid to North Korea after Pyongyang announced its willingness to shut down the country’s largest nuclear reactor. This year, 400,000 tonnes of rice were sent along with large quantities of heating oil. Emergency aid from the south had been interrupted after North Korea had launched new long-range rockets in 2006.


After bitter rivalries, South Korea and Japan agreed on the 2002 World Cup event, which improved a previously strained relationship. In 2005, however, an emotional conflict arose again over the archipelago of Dokdo, in Japan known by the name Takeshima.

The United States and the wars in the Middle East

In February 2004, Parliament passed a contentious proposal to send over 3,000 soldiers in support of the United States Coalition in the Iraq War. The government did not turn down when a South Korean interpreter was abducted and later beheaded. The United States, for its part, announced major changes to its military presence on the Korean Peninsula: US forces were reduced from their previous level of 37,000 to 29,000 men in 2009. US troops in advanced positions at the DMZ border zone were relocated to rear lines further south. The troop reductions were linked to the situation in Iraq/Afghanistan. Under President Roh Moo Hyun caused the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to cool relations between Seoul and Washington. The Roh government was anxious that the United States would push Pyongyang for strong, thus triggering harsh reactions from the north.

Until 2012, the United States still had command of its own and South Korean forces in a possible war situation. In 2012, this commanding authority switched to South Korea’s defense force.

With the defense alliance with the United States as the basis, South Korea sent military personnel to both Iraq and Afghanistan. In July 2007, 23 South Koreans from a Christian relief organization were taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were killed during a lengthy negotiation process. 21 were released after South Korea had agreed to withdraw its military personnel, totaling about 210 engineering and sanitation soldiers, from Afghanistan. South Korea denied a claim by the Taliban that ransom of $ 20 million had also been paid. Since June 2008, South Korea has had a small field hospital in Bagram outside Kabul.

From 2004, South Korea had the third largest troop contingent in Iraq (after the United States and the United Kingdom); mostly 3600 military personnel. During 2007, the force was reduced to 1100 men, and the rest withdrew in December 2008.