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The Republic of Korea Armed Forces (hangul: 대한민국 국군; hanja: 大韓民國國軍; Revised RomanizationDaehanminguk Gukgun) or ROK Armed Forces, is the armed forces of the Republic of Korea. It consists of the following branches:

  • Republic of Korea Army (대한민국 육군; 大韓民國陸軍: Daehanminguk Yukgun)
  • Republic of Korea Navy (대한민국 해군; 大韓民國海軍;Daehanminguk Haegun)
    • Republic of Korea Marine Corps (대한민국 해병대; 大韓民國海兵隊;Daehanminguk Haebyeongdae)
  • Republic of Korea Air Force (대한민국 공군; 大韓民國空軍; Daehanminguk Gonggun)


  • Republic of Korea Reserve Forces (대한민국 예비군; 大韓民國豫備軍; Daehanminguk Yebigun)

Created in 1948, following the division of the Korean Peninsula, the Republic of Korea Armed Forces is one of the largest standing armed forces in the world with a reported personnel strength of 3,853,000 in 2010 (653,000 active force and 3,200,000 regular reserve). The ROK military forces are undergoing rapid modernization in preparation for assuming wartime operational control by 2015. Several cutting-edge military systems are currently being inducted.

The ROK military forces are responsible for maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic, but often engage inhumanitarian and disaster-relief efforts nationwide. More recently the ROK military began increasing its participation in international affairs, acknowledging its role and responsibility as the fifteenth 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 enjoys of a good mix of avant-garde as well as older conventional weapons. Korea has one of the highest defense budgets in the world, regularly making the list of top fifteen (as of 2008) (see List of countries by military expenditures). 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 ablue-water navy by 2020.

South Korea has a joint military partnership with the United States as outlined by the Mutual Defense Treaty signed after the Korean War. During the outbreak of the Vietnam War, South Korean Army and 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.

Hazing and harassment have reportedly been a continuous problem in all branches of the ROK military. In 2005 an Army soldier who said he had been abused shot and killed eight of his fellow soldiers. In 2008, a soldier threw a grenade at other sleeping soldiers, injuring five. In 2011, a marine who had been abused killed four of his comrades on Ganghwa Island. Eighty-two military personnel committed suicide in 2010. From 2009-2010, 940 marines were hospitalized after being abused.


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 or 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

Headquarters Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff (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 his/her United States counterpart, 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.


The ROK Army (ROKA)—the sixth largest army in the world—is by far the largest of the military branches, with 522,000 effectives as of 2008. 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), Second Army (SROKA), and Third Army (TROKA), each with its own headquarters, corps, 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 SROKA 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 Operations Command.

The army consists of the Army Headquarters, the Aviation Command, and the Special Warfare Command, with 11 corps, 49 divisions, and 19 brigades, some 522,000 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.

Tanks of the ROK Army include the older M48 Patton series, as well as the more recent K1, K1A1 which bear a 120 mm smooth-bore gun and are of local manufacture, and Russian-built T-80U. The ROK Army has 2,872 tanks, including 1,524 K1 and K1A1 tanks.

The future replacement for the K1 MBT has been baptized the K2 Black Panther (Korean: 흑표), which will be fitted with a 1,500 hp (1,100 kW) water-cooled Diesel engine, 120 mm/L55 main gun, and coaxial machine guns. The new tank will also feature radar equipment as well as all-bearing laser detection system and reactive armor comparable to the American M1A2and French Leclerc.

In addition, South Korea already manufactures the indigenous K-9 Thunder howitzers, which have been exported to Turkey, as well as the K200 series KIFVs which saw action in UN peacekeeping operations as part of the Malaysian peacekeeping forces. A variation of the K200, the KAFV, can be retrofitted to bear a 90 mm barrel or 40 mm grenade turret or M230-1 chain gun or MK-30 30 mm chain gun turret.

Also a replacement for the South Korean K200 series infantry fighting vehicles are currently being tested, designated as K21 (Korea Next-generation Infantry Fighting Vehicle). The initial production is set for 2008, with the ROKA planning to field approximately 466 units until 2015.

The K21 KNIFV's chassis will be constructed entirely out of fiberglass, reducing the vehicle's load and enabling it to travel at higher speeds without bulky and powerful engines. When constructed, the NIFV will be lighter than other IFVs, including the American Bradley series and Russian BMP series, increasing both speed and payload.

The ROK Army also fields the mobile K-SAM Pegasus (Korean천마), fitted with 8 missiles that fly at maximum speeds of mach 2.6, and the K30 Biho (Korean비호) series, which feature a 30 mm twin gun system for self-propelled anti-aerial fire support.

Besides having vehicles of their own design as well as American models, the ROK Army also has several Russian-built AFVs, including BMP-3 IFVs and T-80U MBTs. Although they are in active service with the Army, most of them were purchased in order to experiment their technology to be fitted with the ROK's XK2 MBT, such as the Explosive Reactive Armor blocks mounted on several Russian armored vehicles. However, the ROK Army is continuing their purchase of Russian equipment, as their recent addition of two BMP-3U IFVs hints. Other notable foreign equipment in service with the ROK Army includes the TOW ATGM launchers and Mistral MANPADS.


ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH 976).

The ROK Navy (ROKN) is the armed forces branch responsible for conducting naval operations and amphibious landing operations. As a part of its mission, the ROK Navy has engaged in several peacekeeping operations since the turn of the century.

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.

The ROK Navy had about 68,000 regular personnel including the 27,000 Republic of Korea Marine Corps personnel as of 2008. There are some 170 commissioned ships (total displacement of approx. 153,000 tons) in the ROK Navy, including approximately 10 submarines, 80 patrol craft and 20 auxiliaries as of October 2007. The naval aviation forces consist of about 10 fixed-wing and 50 rotary-wing aircraft. The Marine Corps operates about 400 tracked vehicles including self-propelled artillery.

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. In 2001, then President Kim Dae-jung announced a plan for building up a Strategic Mobile Fleet. 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. The ROK Navy aims to become a blue-water navy by 2020.

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 coast of Busan in October 2008.

Air Force

The ROK Air Force (ROKAF) is a modern air force, which fields some 600+ combat aircraft of American design. In contrast, the North Korean Army has roughly 1,600–1,700 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. An armed version of the T-50 is the modified A-50, which can be fitted with free-fall or precision missiles such as the AGM-65 Maverick.

South Korea maintains a modern air force in order to defend itself from various modes of threats, including the North Korean Army, which fields about twice as many aircraft. As of 2007, it operated more than 180 KF-16C/Ds, 234 F-5A/B/E/Fs, 130 F-4D/Es, 32 F-15Ks with the rest of the 29 F-15Ks being delivered by June 2010, and a number of South Korean made KAI A-50s among its combat aircraft. The Korean variant of F-15E were named F-15K Slam Eagles. South Korea became one of the world's few aircraft exporters when it exported 19 KT-1B indigenous training aircraft to Indonesia in 2003. Korean Aerospace Industries, the South Korean national aerospace company, has plans to export more KT-1 and T-50 Golden Eaglesupersonic trainer aircraft.

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 T-50 and A-50 are the KTX-2 and F-X, respectively. The latter has been fulfilled by the Boeing F-15K.

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.

Marine Corps

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. During the Korean War, the ROKMC earned their nickname as "귀신잡는 해병대" (Ghost-Catching Marines).

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


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 25 months for civil service. The other professional civil service is from 26 months to 36 months.

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).

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

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

Overseas deployments


Name of Conflict/PKOLocationDateTotal DeployedCasualtyNotes
Vietnam War South Vietnam 1965.03.10~1973.03.23 325,517 5,099 10,962 4 0
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 0 0 0 0
UNAVEM III Angola 1995.10.05~1996.12.23 600 0 0 0 0
UNAMET East Timor 1999.10.04~2004.06.04 3,328 0 0 0 0
UNFICYP Cyprus 2002.01.04~2003.12.23 1 0 0 0 0
Iraq War Iraq 2003.02.12~2003.12.30 20,308 0 0 0 0
ONUB Burundi 2004.09.15~2006.12.11 4 0 0 0 0


Name of Conflict/PKOLocationDateDeployedCasualtyNotes
MINURSO Western Sahara 1994.08.09~2006.05.15
1994.11~present 10 135 0 0 0 0
OEF - Afghanistan Afghanistan 2001.12.18~present 11 3,429 1 1 0 0
UNAMA Afghanistan 2003.07.06~present 1 6 0 0 0 0
UNMIL Liberia 2003.10.18~present 2 12 0 0 0 0
UNMIS Sudan 2005.11.25~present 7 31 0 0 0 0
UNIFIL Lebanon 2007.01.16~present 367 1,769 0 0 0 0
UNMIN Nepal 2007.03.12~2008.07.25
OEF - Horn of Africa Somalia 2008.01.16~present 303 601 0 0 0 0
UNAMID Sudan 2009.06.16~present 2 2 0 0 0 0
UNOCI Côte d'Ivoire 2009.07.28~present 2 2 0 0 0 0

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