The Republic of Korea Armed Forces was founded in 1948 in response to North Korean attacks leading to the Korean War. Most of the army at that time was more like a gendarmerie than a full army; when the North rolled its troops across the South, they curbstomped South Korea, until the United States decided to step in (and for a while afterward); the ROKAF later Took a Level in Badass, but a Chinese
mercenary voluntary army was sent by Mao Zedong, partly to help Kim Il-sung, partly because Mao feared China would be attacked by the U.S. via Manchuria and partly because Mao wanted to avoid having northern China flooded with North Korean refugees; a grinding war ensued until 1953, ending with Korea still being divided into two.
When South Korea's economy grew in the 1960s and 1970s, then-President Park Chung-hee encouraged military industry, first by making licensed copies of American military equipment, and later indigenous designs. Due to the North Korean threat, the Republic of Korea Armed Forces have a large budgetnote .
South Korea is a key ally of the United States; it is said that losing South Korea (to North Korea or China) would be disastrous for America, and Japan is having doubts about America's ability to protect the region and is considering whether it should make its own Kaiju Defense Force as badass as shown in anime. Japan's concerns have been curbed somewhat by a new American foreign policy emphasizing focus on East Asia and the Pacific, although confidence is a bit shaky once again.
The Republic of Korea Navy is building a light aircraft carrier and plans to be a blue-water navy by 2020...if the North doesn't invade before then.
The South Korean Armed Forces is modeled after the way the U.S. military worked between the National Security Act of 1947 and the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986; this means that while the chain of command runs from the President through the Minister of National Defense, advised by career military Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs are also in the operational chain of command of their respective branches, rather than serving as advisors with command running directly from the civilian officials to combatant commands. This difference is rendered irrelevant by the nature of South Korea's defense needs: the U.S. has a combatant command for each theater of operations plus one each for special forces, nuclear weapons, and logistics. However, South Korea only has one theater of operations to speak of (ahem), has no nukes, and (being a geographically small country with precisely one military enemy constituting 90% of its risk profile) its special forces and logistics needs don't require a top-level command, so the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is basically the commander for the country's lone combatant command. Also borrowed from the Yanks with Tanks is the presence of a quasi-independent Marine Corps theoretically subordinate to the Navy but really an elite combined-arms fourth branch of the military. In addition to the US influence, however, because a large number of combat-experienced Koreans who served in the Imperial Japanese armed forces during World War 2 played an instrumental role in setting up South Korean military in the beginning, there was a distinctive Japanese flavor in its early days. This was often remarked on by the Vietnamese during The Vietnam War, to whom South Koreans (who sent a sizable contingent to support US in that conflict) looked like a Suspiciously Similar Substitute to the Japanese whom they had to deal with a couple of decades before. Furthermore, since many of these Korean veterans of Japanese military had often fought against Leftist Korean guerrillas as Japanese soldiers, this often becomes a point of controversy in South Korean politics.
Conscription is mandatory for males 18 and above for at least two years. It is regarded as a Serious Business for South Koreans and being convicted of draft dodging comes with a mandatory ten year prison sentence, even for conscientious objectors. Actors and entertainers all have to put their careers on hold to fulfill their obligations and any misbehavior during their time in service can result in their fanbases turning on them and permanently damaging their careers. Failure to fulfill one's obligation, barring severe medical issues, is considered an embarrassment in Korean society and can result in humiliation and ostracism.
To show just how seriously military service is, Psy was actually forced to reenlist when the government determined that he hadn't satisfactorily completed his obligation to the countrynote , and the misbehavior of many singers (including drinking binges, frequenting massage parlors, or just visiting girlfriends while on active duty) led to the army entertainment unit being permanently disbanded and its members being reassigned to front line combat units. In fact when singer Yoo Seung-jun, at the height of his fame, renounced his Korean citizenship and became a naturalized US citizen to avoid the draft, the Korean government responded by banning him from ever entering the country againnote .
Republic of Korea Army
The Republic of Korea Army is the senior branch of the armed forces. Its size of 600,000 is understandable because any North Korean Zerg Rush to the south is complete trouble. South Korean Army troops are known to be a Badass Army; in Vietnam, both the Americans and Vietnamese from both sides respected the ROKA because their tactics seemed to work better than those of either of the U.S. or the South Vietnamese.
South Korea has mandatory military conscription - every Korean male, with very few exceptionsnote , serves about 2 years in the military.
The ROKA currently fields the K1 tank, which is as good as the M1 Abrams tank according to its creators, and the K200 and K21 series armored personnel carriers. They are currently producing and deploying the K2 tank, a next generation tank. Bizarrely enough, they also have 35 T-80 tanks and 70 BMP-3 armored personnel carriers that were given as part of a payment of debts the Russians owed them.
Republic of Korea Navy
The Republic of Korea Navy is the naval branch of the ROK armed forces. Many ROK navy men revere Admiral Yi Sun Shin, who in the 16th century whacked a Japanese invasion fleet with his Turtle Boats, the world's first ironclads (according to some). The South Korean navy is currently building up its forces, having already introduced into service an amphibious assault ship/light carrier and several modern AEGIS-capable destroyers, to make it a blue-water navy in 2020 like that of its eastern neighbor and rival.
Republic of Korea Air Force
The ROK Air Force is the air arm of the Korean armed forces. It has 600 American-designed planes, most of them F-4 Phantom IIs, F-5 Tiger IIs, and F-16 Fighting Falcons, but it is currently modernizing its fleet with the F-15K Slam Eagle and the F-35A. It is also participating in the development and production of indigenous aircraft, with the T-50/FA=50 Golden Eagle (unrelated to the F-15) trainer/attack fighter. The ROK Air Force wants to have JDAM bombs and attack drones so that their aircraft have better Macross Missile Massacre ability.
The first F-35 Lightning II's are now being delivered, as the air force's newest set of high-tech fighter jets.
Currently, they are developing the sKF-X with support of the Indonesians. Supposed to match the F-35 in performance, it's development is progressing slowly but surely.
Republic of Korea Marines
The Trope Namer, the ROKMAR, although theoretically under the direction of the Chief of Naval Operations, operates as a distinct arm of the military of South Korea. It has a badass reputation; during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, they were so successful in fishing out North Korean and Vietcong guerrillas that they earned the nickname "Ghost-Catching Marines." One example in Korea is that a squad of ROK Marines had almost decimated an entire North Korean battalion. In Vietnam, the Vietcong and the NVA dreaded fighting Korean Marines; one battle involved 300 South Koreans successfully fending off an entire North Vietnamese brigade with minimal casualties. They were famous for their special style of combat, and ROK commandos sometimes killed Vietcong with karate chops in close-up fights. By comparison, American soldiers in Vietnam had a lower kill ratio than the Koreans, serving only to further their reputation as badasses around the world.
KATUSA: Korean Augmentation To the United States Army
Eagle Squadron, except that they serve with U.S. Forces in South Korea. Young Korean men have to pass English proficiency tests then are selected by lottery for training. After training, they serve with U.S. units in Korea. Many families would like to see their sons enter the KATUSA program because of the ROK Army and Marines training from hell/Spartan Way. KATUSA soldiers do enjoy their time with U.S. units. However if they fail a PT test or violate U.S. and ROK military regulations they get sent back to a ROK Army unit.
National Police Agency
South Korea's National Police Agency includes the Combat Police division. This is a paramilitary organization made up of military conscripts and primarily used for riot policing. Battalions are stationed throughout the country and can be quickly deployed anywhere within the country to respond to large-scale violence.
In the past, they were regarded as being little more than the enforcement arm of previous authoritarian regimes and being very quick to dole out Police Brutality and tear gas. More recent governments have tried to reform the Combat Police into a more professional organization that uses its presence as a visible deterrence rather than the treat of force. Although violent clashes do still occur, they are now very infrequent compared to the days when students were demanding democratic reforms and local tear gas manufacturers had to shut down because because tear gas use was severely cut back.
After the Armistice in 1953 which paused the Korean War, the United Nations Command (UNC), the multinational organisation created by the UN and placed under American command eventually wound down its mission as the contributing nations withdrew their forces. The United States and South Korea signed a military alliance later and a status of forces agreement to keep American troops in the country under the auspices of US Forces-Korea (USFK).
Combined Forces Command (CFC) was created by the ROK and the United States later in 1978, totally separate from the United Nations Command, by which time the United States was the only foreign country with a significant military presence on the Korean peninsula. Combined Forces is headed by an American four star officer (who is also Commander of UNC and USFK) with an ROK officer as deputy.
In the event of war on the Korean Peninsula (most likely the Korean War unpausing), the defense of South Korea would be coordinated from CFC, meaning that all South Korean forces will be commanded by an American officer. UNC exists to this day but as an entity devoid of muscle but it could be reactivated in the event other countries wish to commit their forces to help in the defense of South Korea. Components of UNC remain functional such as UNC Rear based at Yokota airbase, Japan.
The Combined Forces arrangement has caused resentment in South Koreans; given that the existence of their state is in the hands of a foreign officer along with unpleasant memories of impinged sovereignty. This put the United States in an unpopular position when it was perceived to be supporting South Korea's intelligence chief and strongman, Lt General Chun Doo-hwan, during the Gwangju crackdown in 1980.
In 1994 South Korea's government assumed all responsibility for its own military's affairs during peacetime. In the event of war however, operational control (OPCON) however falls to CFC. All South Korean deployments in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq were undertaken on the initiative of its government and operational control fell to MAC-V (USPACOM), ISAF (NATO JFC-Brunssum) and Multinational Force-Iraq (USCENTCOM) respectively. The crux of the issue is that the Pentagon cannot order ROK forces to deploy beyond South Korea without its government's consent; not even during the Cold War when they had to go through President Park for troops to Vietnam.
There has been recent debate within South Korea, whether it should retain total operational control in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula, thus ending the need for Combined Forces Command. The government of Park Geun-hye postponed a decision on the matter which was due at the end of 2014. The debate is contentious, but it is substantially less acrimonious than it has been in past years, in large part because of the increasingly positive opinion the Korean public has for the US (as recently as the early 2000s, (South) Korean public opinion consistently hovered in the 60-70% anti-US range, while at present that's almost reversed and South Koreans are among the most pro-American people in East Asia, although not quite so much as the Filipinos and—oddly—the Vietnamese).
Examples in fiction:Fan Works
- In The Conversion Bureau: The Other Side of the Spectrum, the South Korean armed forces are stated to be playing a big role in Earth's military response against the Solar Empire's Assimilation Plot. The fic has a side story centered in Asia detailing the war effort on their side of the Eurasia continent, and one of the main protagonists, Yon-Soo Park, is a former entertainer who has to remember his training.
- Featured prominently in the Korean War film Taegukgi.
- The Front Line features a South Korean company during the closing weeks of the Korean War.
- Also the subject of the Korean movie Joint Security Area.
- Korean soldiers are the main characters in two Korean horror movies directed by Kong Su-Chang. R-Point, set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and The Guard Post, set on the DMZ in modern day Korea. The Other Wiki has detailed synopses of both.
- The James Bond movie Die Another Day was criticized by South Koreans as they were were offended by the scene in which an American officer issues orders to the South Korean army in the defense of their homeland.
- Though it is actually technically accurate under current arrangements between the American and ROK governments.
- Both alive and infected personnel of the ROK Army appear in Train to Busan. They are even stated to have secured Busan as a safe zone, a historical Call-Back to the Korean War. Sadly, we do not see them kicking zombie ass though.
- They get more zombie-killing action in Seoul Station but are portrayed as the bad guys.
- The Dale Brown novel Battle Born, involving a Second Korean War.
- Play a large role in the Larry Bond novel Red Phoenix, where an ROK liaison officer is one of the two survivors of one of the opening attacks in a Second Korean War.
- An episode of The Unit is set on a South Korean submarine.
- Every so often, ROK military personnel show up in, well, M*A*S*H.
- The South Korean Army appears in Mercenaries as one of the factions invading North Korea. They are depicted as being supported by the American CIA, and are equipped at the same level as the Allied Nations expedition.
- ROK forces are a thorn in your side in the Soviet Campaign of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, conducting a raid on the Russian Far East and screwing up your invasion of Hawaii. They also get quite possibly the most awesome special unit on the Allied side in multiplayer/skirmish mode: the Black Eagle, a better version of the usual Allied Harrier fighter/attack plane.
- South Korean soldiers appear in the Seoul mission in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Notably, they are just as hostile to Sam as North Korean soldiers are, if only because a guy in a full black suit with guns and tools strapped all over sneaking around an active warzone would look pretty suspicious to anyone.
- Tekken: Hwoarang was drafted into the ROK Army in Tekken 4. Soldiers and an officer appear in his ending demanding him to surrender. Instead, both Jin Kazama and Hwoarang knock out a few of them before evading their hail of automatic gunfire.
- The ROK Armed Forces make their debut in the third Wargame installment, Red Dragon, joining the NATO side along with Japan and ANZAC.
- In Overwatch, the Mobile Exo-Force of the Korean Army (a.k.a, MEKA) is a division created by the ROK Army as a response to the Omnic Crisis. D.Va is one such member and a playable character.