A virtual fitting service utilizing 3D printing technology in the South Korea army.

The Ministry of National Defense is pushing forward its expansive initiative to restructure and modernize the Republic of Korea Armed Forces to counter the demographic cliff the country faces.

One of the main pillars of the “Defense Reform 2.0,” first announced in last July by the incumbent President Moon Jae-in administration, is to actively utilize science and technology in the era of the fourth industrial revolution.

Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo on Friday held a plenary meeting for the “4th Industrial Revolution Smart Defense Innovation,” part of the Defense Reform 2.0.

The introduction of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to supplement lack of training facilities, and artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to better allocate defense budgets while creating a better living environment for soldiers were among the agenda.

The 3D printing technology for better fitting combat uniforms and drones for transportation of munitions will also be introduced.

“The defense operation reform focuses on applying the concept of ‘total life cycle’ management to the soldiers and defense resources to enhance the education and training of soldiers while promoting safety and welfare and to maximize the efficiency of defense resource management,” the defense ministry said.

The ministry is also planning to establish a hyper-connected intranet network for defense resources and facilities that will enable mobile device-based work environment.

The “smart” reform plan by the ministry aims to create a smaller but smarter military based on cutting-edge technologies such as AR/VR, AI and 3D printing, reducing troop numbers to 500,000 by 2022.

All able-bodied South Korean men are obliged to serve in the military for nearly two years to defend the country from a possible North Korean invasion, but the ministry estimates that military resources will be reduced by 20,000 to 30,000 people in 2023, around the time when those born in 2002 will join the military.

Downsizing the military forces, however, requires a substantial budget.

According to the defense ministry, 270.7 trillion won will be spent for five years from 2019 to 2023 ― 176.6 trillion won for military forces operation and 94.1 trillion won for improving the overall defense abilities.

The ministry said that it will increase the share of the defense budget to 36.5 percent by 2023, from 32.9 percent this year. The average increase will be 7.5 percent a year, if it is implemented as planned.

The number of general-grade officers will also be reduced to 436 by 2022, down 76 from 360 in 2018, meaning the removal of 66 general-level positions for the Army and five each for the Navy and Air Force.

The defense ministry’s reform plan comes amid a broader shift of policy priorities by the South Korean military in response to ongoing efforts to create peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Earlier in March, the defense ministry suspended all major South Korea-U.S. joint exercises including their springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises as well as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) joint drill usually held in August.

The downsized joint exercise named “19-1 Dong Maeng” had been practiced as a replacement for the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises while a new civilian-military exercise named “Ulchi Taeguek” is expected to be held in May and a renamed U.S.-South Korea joint command-post exercise (CPX) “19-2 Dong Maeng” in August or September, to replace the UFG.

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