Republic of Korea Armed Forces

Republic of Korea Armed Forces
대한민국 국군
Daehanminguk Gukgun

Flag of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces
Founded August 15, 1948
Service branches  Republic of Korea Army
Republic of Korea Navy
 Republic of Korea Air Force
Republic of Korea Marine Corps
Headquarters Seoul, South Korea
Commander-in-Chief Park Geun-Hye
President of South Korea
Minister of National Defense Han Min-goo
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Lee Soon-Jin, ROKA
Military age Mandatory 18 to 35 years of age for male, wartime conscription 18–45 years of age
Conscription 21–24 months depending on the branch
Active personnel 630,000 (2014)[1]
Reserve personnel 2,970,000 (2014)[1]
Deployed personnel

15 nations, 1,389 troops (Nov 2014)
List of major deployment[2]

Budget $35.7 billion (2014)[1]
Percent of GDP 2.38 % (2014)[1]
Domestic suppliers

List of major suppliers [3]

Foreign suppliers

List of major suppliers

Related articles
History Korean War (1950–1953)
Vietnam War (1964–1973)
Persian Gulf War (1991)
War in Afghanistan (2001–2014)
Iraq War (2003–2008)
Ranks Military ranks of South Korea
Comparative military ranks of Korea

The Republic of Korea Armed Forces (Korean: 대한민국 국군; Hanja: 大韓民國國軍; Revised Romanization: Daehanminguk Gukgun, literally "Great Korean Republic National Military") are also known as the ROK Armed Forces, are the armed forces of South Korea. Created in 1948, following the division of Korea, the Republic of Korea Armed Forces is one of the largest standing armed forces in the world with a reported personnel strength of 3,600,000 in 2014 (630,000 active and 2,970,000 reserve).[1] The ROK military forces are responsible for maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic, but often engage in humanitarian and disaster-relief efforts nationwide. More recently the ROK military began increasing its participation in international affairs, acknowledging its role and responsibility as the eleventh economic power in the world in terms of GDP. The ROK military has participated in various peacekeeping operations, and counter-terrorism operations.


The South Korean armed forces were largely constabulary forces until the outbreak of the Korean War. It was heavily damaged by North Korean and Chinese attacks and in the beginning relied almost entirely on American support for weapons, ammunition and technology. During South Korea's period of rapid growth, the military expanded accordingly, benefiting from several government-sponsored technology transfer projects and indigenous defense capability initiatives. Modernization efforts for the ROK military have been in place since the 1980s. The website states that "in 1990 South Korean industries provided about 70 percent of the weapons, ammunition, communications and other types of equipment, vehicles, clothing, and other supplies needed by the military."

Today, the South Korean armed forces enjoy a good mix of avant-garde as well as older conventional weapons. South Korea has one of the highest defense budgets in the world, ranking 12th globally in 2011, with a budget of more than $30 billion U.S. dollars. Its capabilities include many sophisticated American and European weapon systems, complemented by a growing and increasingly more advanced indigenous defense manufacturing sector. For example, by taking advantage of the strong local shipbuilding industry, the ROK Navy has embarked on a rigorous modernization plan with ambitions to become a blue-water navy by 2020.[4] South Korea has a joint military partnership with the United States, termed the ROK-U.S. Alliance,[5] as outlined by the Mutual Defense Treaty signed after the Korean War. During the outbreak of the Vietnam War, ROK Army and the ROK Marines were among those fighting alongside South Vietnam and the United States. More recently, South Korea also takes part in regional as well as pan-Pacific national military wargames and exercises such as RIMPAC and RSOI. Among other components of the armed forces is the Defence Security Command, originally the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps, which had a major role in monitoring the military's loyalty during the period of military rule in South Korea.

Until January 2011, "mixed-race" men were prohibited from being conscripted into the South Korean military.[6]


The ROK Armed Forces consists of the:

In addition, reserve elements consist of the:

National Command Authority

The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces ex officio. The military authority runs from the President to the Minister of Defense, who is commonly (but not legally bound to be) a retired 4-star General (equivalent to a British Army/Commonwealth full General or a Royal Navy/Commonwealth Admiral).

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a 4-star General or Admiral, is the Senior Officer of the Armed Forces and has the Operational Authority over the Armed Forces, with directions from the President through the Minister of Defense. Traditionally (with one exception), the position is filled by an officer of the Army. The chain of Operational Authority runs straight from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Commandants of the several Operational Commands. Currently there are five Operational Commands in the Army, two in the Navy (including the Marine Corps) and one in the Air Force.

The respective Chiefs of Staff of each Service Branch (Army, Navy, Air Force) has administrative control over his or her own service. Each Chief of Staff is also a standing member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters (Hangul: 대한민국 합동참모본부, Hanja: 大韓民國 合同參謀本部) is a group of Chiefs from each major branch of the armed services in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces. Unlike the United States, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has operational control over all military personnel of the armed forces.

All regular members are 4-star generals or admirals, although the deputy chairman sometimes has only 3 stars.

Service branches

ROK Army (대한민국 육군)

South Korean soldiers at the JSA (Joint Security Area) between the blue buildings. North Korea is in the background.

The ROK Army (ROKA) is by far the largest of the military branches, with 495,000 personnel as of 2014. This comes as a response to both the mountainous terrain native to the Korean Peninsula (70% mountainous) as well as the heavy North Korean presence, with its 1-million-strong army, two-thirds of which is permanently garrisoned in the frontline near the DMZ. The current administration has initiated a program of self-defense, whereby South Korea would be able to fully counter the North Korean threat with purely domestic means within the next two decades.

The ROK Army was formerly organized into three armies: the First Army (FROKA), Third Army (TROKA) and Second Operational Command each with its own headquarters, corps (not Second Operational Command), and divisions. The Third Army was responsible for the defense of the capital as well as the western section of the DMZ. The First Army was responsible for the defense of the eastern section of the DMZ whereas the Second Operational Command formed the rearguard.

Under a restructuring plan aimed at reducing redundancy, the First and Third Armies will be incorporated into the newly formed First Operations Command, whereas the Second ROK Army has been converted into the Second Operational Command. The army consists of the Army Headquarters, the Aviation Command, and the Special Warfare Command, with 7 corps, 39 divisions, some 520,000 troops and estimated as many as 5,850 tanks and armored vehicles, 11,337 artillery systems, 7,032 missile defense systems and 13,000 infantry support systems.[4]

The army will take the brunt of the personnel reduction part of the Defense Reform 307. Associated with this personnel reduction would be a significant reduction in the ROK Army force structure, in particular decreasing the current force of 47 divisions (active duty and reserve) down to a force of about 28 divisions.[7]

ROK Navy (대한민국 해군)

The ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH-976) underway in July 2006
ROKN Sejong the Great (DDG 991), a King Sejong the Great -class guided-missile destroyer

The ROK Navy (ROKN) is the armed forces branch responsible for conducting naval operations and amphibious landing operations.[8] As a part of its mission, the ROK Navy has engaged in several peacekeeping operations since the turn of the century.[9] The ROK Navy includes the Republic of Korea Navy Headquarters, Republic of Korea Fleet, Naval Logistics Command, Naval Education and Training Command, Naval Academy, and Republic of Korea Marine Corps, which is a quasi-autonomous organization. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) is the highest-ranking officer (four-star admiral) of the ROK Navy.

In 1995, Admiral An Pyongtae, the 20th Chief of Naval Operations, presented the vision of building a "blue ocean navy" for the future of the ROK Navy in his inaugural address.[10] In 2001, then President Kim Dae-jung announced a plan for building up a Strategic Mobile Fleet.[11] As a part of "Defense Reform 2020," which was proposed by the Roh Moo-hyun Administration, the ROK Navy is required to reform the organizations under Commander-in-Chief Republic of Korea Fleet (CINCROKFLT) by upgrading a submarine operations command (to fleet submarine force), a naval aviation operations command (to fleet air arm), and by establishing some Mobile Flotillas.[12] The ROK Navy aims to become a blue-water navy by 2020.[13]

In the first decade of the 21st century, the ROK Navy launched the lead ships of newly developed types: in 2002, ROKS Chungmugong Yi Sunshin (DDH 975), a 4,500-ton destroyer, was launched; in 2005, the 14,000-ton amphibious landing ship, ROKS Dokdo (LPH 6111) was launched; in 2006, the ROK Navy launched the Sohn Won-yil (SS 072), an 1,800-ton Type 214 submarine with Air-Independent propulsion (AIP) system. In 2007, the ROK Navy launched the lead ship (DDG 991) of the King Sejong the Great class destroyer, built around the Aegis combat system and the SPY-1D multi-function phased array radar. The ROK Navy is undertaking several shipbuilding projects: Korean Destroyer Experimental (KDX) program, Frigate Experimental (FFX), Landing Platform Experimental (LPX), Patrol Killer Experimental (PKX), and Korean Submarine (KSS) program.

The ROK Navy hosted its second international fleet review off the coast of Busan in October 2008.

ROK Marine Corps (대한민국 해병대)

ROK Marines preparing to board the American amphibious assault ship, USS Essex (LHD-2) in 2007

Although the National Armed Forces Organisation Act stipulates that the ROK Navy includes the Republic of Korea Marine Corps, the ROKMC is a semi-autonomous organization that carries out much of its functions independently.[14] During the Korean War, the ROKMC earned their nickname as "귀신잡는 해병대" (English: Ghost-Catching Marines).[15]

The motto of the ROK Marine Corps is "한번 해병은 영원한 해병" (Once a Marine, Forever a Marine).

ROK Air Force (대한민국 공군)

The ROK Air Force (ROKAF) maintains a modern air force in order to defend itself from various modes of threats, including the North Korean Army. The ROK Air Force fields some 450 combat aircraft of American design. In contrast, the North Korean Army has roughly 650 combat aircraft, but mostly obsolete types of Soviet and Chinese origin.

Korea began a program for the development of indigenous jet trainers beginning in 1997. This project eventually culminated in the KAI T-50, dubbed the "Golden Eagle" which is used as a trainer for jet pilots, now being exported to Indonesia. A multirole all-weather version of the T-50 is the modified FA-50, which can be externally fitted with Rafael's Sky Shield or LIG Nex1's ALQ-200K ECM pods, Sniper or LITENING targeting pods, and Condor 2 reconnaissance pods to further improve the fighter's electronic warfare, reconnaissance, and targeting capabilities.[16][17] Other improved weapon systems over FA-50 include SPICE multifunctional guidance kits,[18] Textron CBU-97/105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon with WCMD tail kits, JDAM, and JDAM-ER for more comprehensive air-to-ground operations, and AIM-120 missiles for BVR air-to-air operations.[19] FA-50 has provisions for, but does not yet integrate, Python and Derby missiles, also produced by Rafael, and other anti-ship missiles, stand-off weapons, and sensors to be domestically developed by Korea.[20][21][22]

The Republic of Korea Air Force also expressed interests in acquiring the RQ-4 Global Hawk and Joint Direct Attack Munition kits to further improve their intelligence and offensive capabilities.

The replacement programs for the F-4D/E and F-5A/B/E/F are the KTX-2 and F-X, respectively. The latter has been fulfilled by the Boeing F-15K.[23]

The South Korean government also announced its plan to develop indigenous helicopter manufacturing capacities to replace the aging UH-1 helicopters, many of which had seen service during the Vietnam War. The program originally included plans for the development of both a civilian and a military helicopter. This was later revised and gave priority to the utility helicopter program. Based on the success and experience of the civilian KMH (Korean Multi-purpose Helicopter) the attack helicopter, which would share a common configuration, will be developed.


Han Min-goo, Minister of National Defense

Military service is mentioned as one of the Four Constitutional Duties (along with taxes, education, and labor) for all citizens. The current effective Conscription Law, however, applies only to males although women can volunteer as officers or non-commissioned officers. Military service varies according to branch: 21 months for the Army and Marine Corps, 23 months for the Navy, 24 months for the Air Force and civil service. The other professional civil service is from 26 months to 36 months. Korea has a bonus point system (Hangul: 군가산점; Hanja: 軍加算點; RR: gungasanjeom) which gives a person who completed military service bonus points when applying for a job.[24]

Recently, however, there has been significant pressure from the public demanding either a shortening of the term or a switch to voluntary military service.

In the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, ranks fall into one of four categories: commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer, and enlisted, in decreasing order of authority. Commissioned officer ranks are further subdivided into "Janggwan" or general officers, "Yeonggwan" or field grade officers, and "Wigwan" or company officers. The "Wonsu" is appointed from the "Daejang" who has distinguished achievements. However, there has been no one holding the rank of "Wonsu" in the history of the ROK Armed Forces. All branches share a common rank-system, with different colors used to denote the different branches (Army: Green & Black, Navy: White & Black, Marine Corps: Red & Yellow, Air Force: Green & Blue).


Note: The English titles are given as comparative examples with the US Army ranks.

Commissioned Officers (장교; 將校; Janggyo)
장관 (將官; Janggwan)
원수 元帥 Wonsu General of the Army
대장 大將 Daejang General
중장 中將 Jungjang Lieutenant General
소장 少將 Sojang Major General
준장 准將 Junjang Brigadier General
영관 (領官; Yeonggwan)
대령 大領 Daeryeong Colonel
중령 中領 Jungnyeong Lieutenant Colonel
소령 少領 Soryeong Major
위관 (尉官; Wigwan)
대위 大尉 Daewi Captain
중위 中尉 Jungwi First Lieutenant
소위 少尉 Sowi Second Lieutenant
Warrant Officers (준사관; 准士官; Junsagwan)
준위 准尉 Junwi Warrant Officer
Non-Commissioned Officers (부사관; 副士官; Busagwan)
원사 元士 Wonsa Sergeant Major
상사 上士 Sangsa Master Sergeant
중사 中士 Jungsa Sergeant First Class
하사 下士 Hasa Staff Sergeant
Enlisted (병; 兵; Byeong)
병장 兵長 Byeongjang Sergeant
상병 上兵 Sangbyeong Corporal
일병 一兵 Ilbyeong Private First Class
이병 二兵 Ibyeong Private


Until April 2011, South Korean soldiers swore allegiance to the "Korean race" in their oaths of enlistment.[6][25] Likewise, until 2007, the South Korean civilian pledge of allegiance was also to the "Korean race".[26][27]


Year Amount (KRW) % of GDP % of Gov Budget % of change
1980 2.25 trillion 5.69 34.7 46.2
1981 2.70 trillion 5.47 33.6 20.1
1982 3.12 trillion 5.49 33.5 15.7
1983 3.27 trillion 4.85 31.4 4.9
1984 3.31 trillion 4.25 29.6 1.0
1985 3.69 trillion 4.23 29.4 11.6
1986 4.16 trillion 4.08 30.1 12.7
1987 4.75 trillion 3.95 29.6 14.1
1988 5.52 trillion 3.83 30.0 16.3
1989 6.01 trillion 3.68 27.3 9.0
1990 6.64 trillion 3.36 24.2 10.4
1991 7.48 trillion 3.13 23.8 12.6
1992 8.41 trillion 3.08 25.1 12.5
1993 9.22 trillion 2.97 24.2 9.6
1994 10.08 trillion 2.75 23.3 9.3
1995 11.07 trillion 2.58 21.4 9.9
1996 12.24 trillion 2.54 20.8 10.6
1997 13.79 trillion 2.60 20.7 12.6
1998 13.80 trillion 2.63 18.3 0.1
1999 13.75 trillion 2.38 16.4 -0.4
2000 14.48 trillion 2.28 16.3 5.3
2001 15.39 trillion 2.24 15.5 6.3
2002 16.36 trillion 2.15 14.9 6.3
2003 17.51 trillion 2.16 14.8 7.0
2004 18.94 trillion 2.16 15.8 8.1
2005 21.10 trillion 2.29 15.6 11.4
2006 22.51 trillion 2.33 15.3 6.7
2007 24.50 trillion 2.35 15.7 8.8
2008 26.65 trillion 2.41 14.8 8.8
2009 28.98 trillion 2.52 14.2 8.7
2010 29.56 trillion 2.34 14.7 2.0
2011 31.40 trillion 2.36 15.0 6.2
2012 32.96 trillion 2.39 14.8 5.0
2013 34.50 trillion 2.42 14.3 4.7
2014 35.71 trillion 2.38 14.4 3.5

Overseas deployments

Name of Conflict/PKO Location Date Deployed Casualty Notes
Started Ended Current Total Dead Wounded Missing Captured
Vietnam War  South Vietnam 1964-09-01 1973-03-23 325,517 5,099 10,962 4 0
Persian Gulf War  Saudi Arabia
 United Arab Emirates
1991-01-24 1991-04-10 314 0 0 0 0
UNOSOM II  Somalia 1993-07-30 1994-03-18 516 0 0 0 0
MINURSO  Western Sahara 1994-08-09 2006-05-15 542 0 0 0 0
UNOMIG  Georgia 1994-10-06 2009-07-10 88 1 0 0 0
UNAVEM III  Angola 1995-10-05 1996-12-23 600 0 0 0 0
1997-03-03 ongoing 7 165 1 0 0 0
UNAMET  East Timor 1999-10-04 2004-06-04 3,328 5 0 0 0
Cooperation  United States 2001-11-16 ongoing 3 44 0 0 0 0
OEF - Afghanistan  Afghanistan 2001-12-18 ongoing 63 5,082 2 1 0 0
UNFICYP  Cyprus 2002-01-04 2003-12-23 1 0 0 0 0
Iraq War  Iraq 2003-02-12 2008-12-30 20,308 1 0 0 0
CJTF-HOA  Djibouti 2003-03 2012-12 15 0 0 0 0
UNMIL  Liberia 2003-10-18 ongoing 2 20 0 0 0 0
ONUB  Burundi 2004-09-15 2006-12-11 4 0 0 0 0
UNMIS  Sudan 2005-11-25 2011-07 46 0 0 0 0
UNIFIL  Lebanon 2007-01-16 ongoing 321 4,229 0 0 0 0
UNMIN    Nepal 2007-03-12 2011-01-15 13 1 0 0 0
OEF - Horn of Africa  Somalia 2008-01-16 ongoing 310 3,700 0 3 0 0
UNAMID  Sudan 2009-06-16 ongoing 2 8 0 0 0 0
MINURSO  Western Sahara 2009-07-27 ongoing 4 12 0 0 0 0
UNOCI  Côte d'Ivoire 2009-07-28 ongoing 2 8 0 0 0 0
MINUSTAH  Haiti 2009-11-11 ongoing 2 1,433 0 0 0 0
Cooperation  United Arab Emirates 2011-01 ongoing 150 687 0 1 0 0
UNMISS  South Sudan 2011-07 ongoing 290 290 0 0 0 0
Araw Contingent  Philippines 2013-12 ongoing 520[28] 540[29] 0 0 0 0


In 2008, officers and soldiers of Unit Dongmyeong, stationed in Lebanon with the UNIFIL, received honorary medals from the United Nations.[30]

Modernization and future

The ROK military forces are undergoing rapid modernization in preparation for assuming wartime operational control of the ROK's defenses by December 2015.[5] Several cutting-edge military systems are currently being inducted.[4] At the same time, the ROK Armed Forces will see a reduction in active duty personnel from 640,000 to 517,000 by the end of this decade.[31]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "국방백서 2014" (PDF). December 2014.
  2. "한국군 해외파병 현황". 2014-11-27.
  3. "방위사업법 제35조(방산업체의 지정 등)에 의하여 지정된 방산업체의 현황". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 "North vs. South Korea: A Military Comparison." Global Bearings, 7 November 2011.
  5. 1 2 "North Korea vs South Korea". 22 October 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  6. 1 2 "New Pledge of Allegiance to Reflect Growing Multiculturalism". The Chosun Ilbo. South Korea. 18 April 2011. Archived from the original on April 20, 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011. The military has decided to omit the word 'minjok,' which refers to the Korean race, from the oath of enlistment for officers and soldiers, and replace it with 'the citizen.' The measure reflects the growing number of foreigners who gain Korean citizenship and of children from mixed marriages entering military service.
  7. file:///C:/Users/ACER/Downloads/IB8_The-Korean-Defence-Reform-307-Plan_eng.pdf
  8. "Duty of the ROK Navy". Republic of Korea Navy Official Website. Retrieved March 10, 2007.
  9. "해군작전사령부 창설 54주년..어제와 오늘 그리고 미래". Ministry of National Defense Official Website. Retrieved March 4, 2007.
  10. "21세기 통일한국의 大洋해군 전략". Retrieved March 8, 2007.
  11. "김대통령, 해군사관학교 졸업 및 임관식 참석말씀". Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library Official Website. Retrieved March 12, 2007.
  12. "2006 국방백서". Ministry of National Defense Official Website. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  13. "대양해군건설". Republic of Korea Navy Official Website. Retrieved March 4, 2007.
  14. "해병대 조직". Republic of Korea Marine Corps Official Website. Retrieved March 26, 2007.
  15. "해병대관련표어". Republic of Korea Marine Corps Official Website. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  16. Sniper Targeting Pod for FA-50
  17. Condor 2 Reconnaissance Pod for FA-50
  18. Rafael SPICE 1000 Guided Bomb
  19. FA-50 Expanded Weapons and Avionics. Retrieved on 2011-06-05.
  20. AMRAAM and Derby for FA-50
  21. Python 5 and New Weapons Developed by Korea for FA-50
  22. Reed Business Information Limited. "IN FOCUS: South Korea outlines strategy for indigenous fighter". Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  23. "Boeing F-15K Selected by the Republic of Korea as F-X Fighter" (Press release). Boeing. 2002-04-19. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
  24. KBS. "Extra Points for Serving in the Military." KBS. 2013-04-17.
  25. Doolan, Yuri W. (June 2012). "Being Amerasian in South Korea: Purebloodness, Multiculturalism, and Living Alongside the U.S. Military Empire" (PDF). The Ohio State University. p. 63. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  26. Kelly, Robert E. (4 June 2015). "Why South Korea is So Obsessed with Japan". Real Clear Defense.
  27. Myers, Brian Reynolds (14 September 2010). "South Korea: The Unloved Republic?". Archived from the original on May 19, 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013. South Korea's political right for decades neglected to instill any sense of pride in the Republic, because there was little to be proud of. Even the pledge of allegiance from 1972 is a pledge made to the homeland and the race, not to the Republic.
  28. ko:아라우 부대
  29. "S. Korea to deploy troops for rehab". Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  30. JungSung-ki (June 25, 2008). "S. Korean Troops in Lebanon Honored". The Korea Times. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  31. "South Korean Defence Modernisation - Asian Military Review". Asian Military Review. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
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