(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 12-13)
SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will increase defense spending by an average of 7.5 percent each year over the next five years with a focus on building "independent capabilities to counter threats from all directions," Seoul's defense ministry said Friday.
The ministry announced its defense blueprint for the 2019-2023 period, during which it wants to spend 270.7 trillion won (US$241.9 billion) -- 94.1 trillion won on improving defense capabilities and the rest on managing troops, equipment and facilities.
Under the plan, the ministry seeks to increase the country's defense budget, which stands at 46.7 trillion won this year, to 50.3 trillion won for 2020, 54.1 trillion won for 2021, 57.8 trillion won for 2022 and 61.8 trillion won for 2023.
During the five-year period, the average annual increase rate amounts to 7.5 percent, compared with an average of 4.9 percent over the last decade. The spending plan, which will go through an internal review by the finance ministry, is subject to parliamentary approval.
From this year through 2023, the ministry hopes to increase the annual budget for strengthening defense capabilities by an average of 10.8 percent and that for force management by an average of 5.8 percent.
The cost of enhancing defense capabilities accounts for 32.9 percent of this year's total defense budget. The ministry seeks to expand that proportion to 36.5 percent in 2023.
"The ministry has decided to focus on building independent defense capabilities while reasonably adjusting the force management cost by redesigning the personnel management structure and enhancing operational efficiency," the ministry said in a press release.
The midterm plan earmarks 65.6 trillion won for an array of projects to secure capabilities to respond to threats from nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), retake wartime operational control from Washington and enhance overall deterrence.
To counter nuclear and WMD threats, the ministry plans to secure "strategic target strike" capabilities by procuring military satellites, mid- and high-altitude surveillance drones and long-range air-to-surface guided missiles.
For the same purpose, it will push for a "Korea-style missile defense" program featuring early warning radars and enhanced surface-to-air Cheolmae II interceptors capable of shooting down an incoming target at an altitude of around 20 kilometers. It will also strive to build "overwhelming response" capabilities with advanced missiles and other assets.
The three programs -- strategic target strike, Korea-style missile defense and overwhelming response -- comprise the "system to respond to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction," the new name for the "three-axis" system, a bedrock scheme to counter North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
The ministry has renamed the three-axis system in line with ongoing efforts for inter-Korean reconciliation and its push to handle potential threats from outside the peninsula.
To establish the renamed system, the ministry allocated 32 trillion won in the latest five-year plan, an increase of about 30 percent from the previous plan announced in 2017.
To build South Korea's capabilities to lead wartime operations, the ministry plans to double counter-fire capabilities by deploying advanced counter-artillery detection radars and 230 mm-caliber multiple launch rocket systems.
It will also continue its projects to introduce homegrown Aegis-equipped destroyers and fighter jets. Moreover, it plans to set aside 21.9 trillion over the next five years for developing other high-tech weapons systems and related defense technologies.