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Korea South Military - 2024


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Military and security forces

Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea: Republic of Korea Army (ROKA), Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN, includes Marine Corps, ROKMC), Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF)

Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries: Korea Coast Guard; Ministry of Interior and Safety: Korean National Police Agency (2023)

note 1: in January 2022, the South Korean military announced the formation of a space branch under its Joint Chiefs of Staff to coordinate the development of space and space-enabled capabilities across the Army, Navy and Air Force

note 2: the military reserves include Mobilization Reserve Forces (First Combat Forces) and Homeland Defense Forces (Regional Combat Forces)

Military expenditures

2.6% of GDP (2023)
2.6% of GDP (2022 est.)
2.6% of GDP (2021)
2.6% of GDP (2020)
2.7% of GDP (2019)

Military and security service personnel strengths

approximately 500,000 active-duty personnel (365,000 Army; 70,000 Navy, including about 30,000 Marines; 65,000 Air Force) (2023)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the South Korean military is equipped with a mix of domestically produced and imported weapons systems; South Korea has a robust defense industry and production includes armored fighting vehicles, artillery, aircraft, naval ships, and missiles; its weapons are designed to be compatible with US and NATO systems; in recent years the top foreign weapons supplier has been the US, and some domestically produced systems are built under US license (2024)

Military service age and obligation

18-35 years of age for compulsory military service for all men; minimum conscript service obligation varies by service - 18 months (Army, Marines, auxiliary police), 20 months (Navy, conscripted firefighters), 21 months (Air Force, social service), 36 months for alternative service; 18-29 years of age for voluntary military service for men and women (2024)

note 1: women, in service since 1950, are able to serve in all branches and as of 2022 some 15,000 served in the armed forces, including about 9% of the non-commissioned and commissioned officers

note 2: the military brings on over 200,000 conscripts each year

Military deployments

250 Lebanon (UNIFIL); 275 South Sudan (UNMISS); 170 United Arab Emirates; note - since 2009, South Korea has kept a naval flotilla with approximately 300 personnel in the waters off of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (2023)

Military - note

the South Korean military is primarily focused on the threat from North Korea but also deploys abroad for multinational missions, including peacekeeping and other security operations; it also participates in bilateral and multinational exercises

South Korea's primary defense partner is the US, and the 1953 US-South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty is a cornerstone of South Korea’s security; the Treaty committed the US to provide assistance in the event of an attack, particularly from North Korea; in addition, the Treaty gave the US permission to station land, air, and sea forces in and about the territory of South Korea as determined by mutual agreement; the US maintains approximately 28,000 military personnel in the country and conducts bilateral exercises with the South Korean military; South Korea has Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status with the US, a designation under US law that provides foreign partners with certain benefits in the areas of defense trade and security cooperation; the South Korean military has assisted the US in conflicts in Afghanistan (5,000 troops; 2001-2014), Iraq (20,000 troops; 2003-2008), and Vietnam (325,000 troops; 1964-1973)

in 2016, South Korea concluded an agreement with the EU for participation in EU Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions and operations, such as the EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta, which protects maritime shipping and conducts counter-piracy operations off the coast of East Africa

South Korea has been engaged with NATO through dialogue and security cooperation since 2005 and is considered by NATO to be a global partner; in 2022, South Korea established its Mission to NATO to further institutionalize its cooperative relationship; it has participated in NATO-led missions and exercises, including leading an integrated civilian-military reconstruction team in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, 2010-2013; it has also cooperated with NATO in countering the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden by providing naval vessels as escorts

in addition to the invasion of South Korea and the subsequent Korean War (1950-53), North Korea from the 1960s to the 1980s launched a considerable number of limited military and subversive actions against South Korea using special forces and terrorist tactics; including aggressive skirmishes along the DMZ, overt attempts to assassinate South Korean leaders, kidnappings, the bombing of an airliner, and a failed effort in 1968 to foment an insurrection and conduct a guerrilla war in the South with more than 100 seaborne commandos; from the 1990s until 2010, the North lost two submarines and a semi-submersible boat attempting to insert infiltrators into the South (1996, 1998) and provoked several engagements in the Northwest Islands area along the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL), including naval skirmishes between patrol boats in 1999 and 2002, the torpedoing and sinking of a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, in 2010, and the bombardment of a South Korean Marine Corps installation on Yeonpyeong Island, also in 2010; since 2010, further minor incidents continue to occur periodically along the DMZ, where both the North and the South Korean militaries maintain large numbers of troops

the South Korean Army is organized into commands for aviation, ballistic and cruise missile operations, capital defense, ground operations, air and missile defense, and rear area defense operations; the Ground Operations Command has six corps and most of the Army’s ground combat power, which includes 21 combined arms infantry divisions, several of which are mechanized, and about 20 independent armored, artillery, air assault, aviation, and special operations brigades; the active ground forces are backed up by a large reserve force made up of former active duty soldiers

the Navy is a modern force that conducts both coastal and blue water operations; it has three numbered fleets, each assigned to the seas east, west, and south of the country; it also has a submarine command, surface flotillas for specialized missions such as mine warfare and amphibious operations, an aviation wing, a special warfare force, and South Korea’s Marine Corps, which is one of the largest in the World and functions as a rapid reaction, strategic reserve, and island defense force; the Navy’s principal warships include more than 25 destroyers and frigates, two landing platform helicopter (LPH) amphibious assault ships, and about 20 attack-type submarines, complemented by a large force of corvettes and coastal patrol vessels

the South Korean Air Force has a largely modern inventory of more than 800 fixed and rotary wing aircraft, including over 500 fighter and multirole fighter aircraft; it is organized into commands for air combat and air mobility/reconnaissance with subordinate wings and squadrons; the Air Force also has commands for ground based air defense (2023)

NOTE: The information regarding Korea South on this page is re-published from the 2024 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Korea South 2024 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Korea South 2024 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.

This page was last modified 04 May 24, Copyright © 2024 ITA all rights reserved.