S Korea's defence ministry seeks to cut number of generals

The Defence Ministry is seeking to curtail the number of active-duty general-level officers to around 400 from the current 440, amid criticism it has failed to fulfil a 2011 reduction plan due to resistance from the top brass.

The ministry said it was now in talks with the Army, Navy and Air Force to finalize a new plan that sources say may involve a reduction of 40 generals and admirals. The plan will be finalized within this year and implemented from next year gradually, the ministry said.

Should the plan be enforced, the posts for 30 Army generals, five or six admirals and seven Air Force generals are expected to be removed. Currently, the general-level group consists of 310 Army generals, 50 admirals, 60 Air Force generals and 15 marine generals.

"Several years ago, we announced our plan to reform the command structure, part of which is to reduce the number of generals. But the plan did not proceed well, and thus the reduction plan has been put on hold," ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters during a press briefing.

"Thus, we are now seeking to set up a new plan to reduce generals and implement it from next year."

In 2011, the Lee Myung-bak administration announced a major defence reform plan aimed at streamlining the bloated command apparatus and readying it for the transfer of wartime operational control from the US, which was then set for December 2015 and now is expected to take place in the mid-2020s.

The overhaul plan involved a reduction of some 60 general-level officers, which sparked strong opposition from generals, although the proportion of generals in South Korea's military is far greater than in other militaries, including the US military. The 1.43 million-strong US military reportedly has some 650 general-level officers.

Critics here argue that the Army's interests in the country's Army-centric military seemed to have been reflected in the formulation of the plan.

"Given the total number of Army troops, there should be more Army generals removed, when other armed services are not adequately staffed," a military source told The Korea Herald, requesting anonymity.