SEOUL --- South Korea's Army will speed up its technology-driven reform drive this year to "move beyond limits" and carve out a pivotal role in future combat operations, its officials said Tuesday.
In recent years, the armed service has been striving to capitalize on cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data, to overcome a series of challenges, including the planned troop drawdown and uncertainties in the security landscape.
"Considering the troop cut plan and other changes that we will face down the road, the Army will strive to create high-tech forces in a departure from a structure heavily dependent on manpower," an Army official told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.
Seoul plans to pare down its troop number to 500,000 by 2022 from the current 599,000 under a reform plan aimed at creating a smaller yet stronger military based on new technologies from the fourth industrial revolution.
The number of the Army personnel, currently at 464,000, will be curtailed by 118,000, including 66 general-grade officers. Along with the troop cut, Seoul plans to shorten the mandatory service period for Army draftees to 18 months from the current 21 months.
To adapt to this change, the Army seeks to harness new technologies in the hopes of enhancing operational efficiency, troop mobility and overall combat power.
"What matters is not the number of our troops but the combat power of our units," the official said, underscoring the Army's will to turn the force drawdown plan in an opportunity to create a slimmer yet powerful armed branch.
To spur its reform efforts, the Army launched a new research institute on artificial intelligence last month. It consists of about 50 military and civilian personnel with expertise in AI, big data and other new technologies.
It is also seeking to introduce to its key combatant units its much-vaunted "warrior platform," high-tech battle gear featuring advanced bulletproof helmets, sniper rifles, night-vision devices and other equipment.
In addition, it has been fleshing out a comprehensive plan to employ drones and robots for surveillance and reconnaissance operations, explosive ordnance disposal or other peacetime and wartime missions.
The Army believes reform efforts will help buttress the Moon Jae-in administration's commitment to promoting "peace through strength" particularly amid inter-Korean efforts to reduce tensions and build confidence.
"This year, we will make the best use of our capabilities and resources to support the current peace efforts in line with the inter-Korean military accord, while striving to promote universal values, such as troops' safety and their human rights," the Army said in a statement.
It was referring to last year's military agreement that entails a series of confidence-building and conventional arms control measures. The Koreas' defense ministers signed it during President Moon Jae-in's trip to Pyongyang in September last year for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.