US Army Sends More Soldiers, Gear to South Korea

South Korea

In February, the US Army will deploy 800 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Tx. to South Korea on a nine-month deployment as part of a broader plan to rotate forces in and out of critical areas across the globe, the service announced on Jan. 7.

As it stands now, the 19,000 soldiers (part of about 28,000 US troops in South Korea) rotate into the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division on an individual basis, making train up times for new arrivals an ongoing process that the service says erodes overall readiness.

The idea here, now that the majority of the Army’s brigades are no longer tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan—or preparing to go or resetting after coming back—is to ensure that the units in Korea are trained and equipped to operate as a group.

And it’s also a way to save a little bit of money.

The 1/12, just like the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment which deployed to South Korea in October, will deploy with all of their equipment but leave it behind when they rotate home for the next unit to fall in on. This will cut down on the costs of future rotations, while also increasing the permanent hardware that the Army has available on the peninsula at any given time

The 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which deployed to Kuwait last year, is following a similar script in the CENTOM area of operations.

Sending in the new unit to Korea will add two companies of M1A2 Abrams tanks and two companies of M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicles to the peninsula, or about 40 tank and 40 up armored infantry carriers overall.

Similarly, the 6th Cavalry Regiment will leave their Kiowa helicopters behind in South Korea.

In remarks made on Jan 7. at the National Press Club, Army chief of staff Gen Ray Odierno explained the rotation of the Cav battalion as a way to “round out the brigade” already stationed in South Korea, which only has two maneuver battalions.

The Army is in the midst of adding a third maneuver battalion to its Brigade Combat Teams to give them more combat punch, while at the same time reducing the overall number of brigades it fields and cutting back the headquarters staffing that it needs to fill as part of its push to get down to 490,000 soldiers by 2015.

The Army currently has about 527,000 soldiers in its formations, down from a wartime high of 570,000. It should be down to a little over 500,000 soldiers by the end of this year, Odierno said.

By adding the third battalion to the Korean brigade, “it allows us to make sure we’re consistent as we apply the resources of our Army not on in Korea but in other areas of the world,” the general added.

After meeting with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Washington on Jan. 7, Secretary of State John Kerry also reaffirmed the commitment of the two countries to defend against any possible North Korea aggression.

Kerry said that the United States is “fully committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, including through extended deterrents and putting the full range of U.S. military capabilities in place. We will continue to modernize our capabilities so that we are prepared to face any threat.”

In 2012 the Army sent several dozen MRAPs to its forces in South Korea to see if the troops there had any use for them. After months of testing in the hilly terrain, leadership sent the MRAPs back home, opting instead for the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Humvees that they were already using.

Still, a spokesman for the 2nd Infantry Division, which is permanently stationed in South Korea, told Defense News that South Korea may act as a “test bed for a lot of new capabilities,” as the Army shifts its focus to the Pacific.

“As we begin to look to the future with the focus being on the Pacific, I think 2nd ID and the 8th Army together are going to be the spearhead for the testing of a lot of these future capabilities,” Army Lt. Col. Joe Scrocca said.

Some of these capabilities include the latest survivability upgrades to the Bradley fighting vehicle, as well as being the first unit — even before those in Afghanistan — to be issued the new Force Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking equipment. About 1,000 vehicles will be outfitted with the new capability, which gives soldiers greater situational awareness and network connectivity. The division also has been issued Abrams M1A2 Systems Enhancement Program tanks and has been upgrading about 300 Humvees.

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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