March 23, 2011: The South Korean Marine Corps is expanding again, over the next six years. Thus the marines will have gone from 25,000 men to 32,000 in about a decade. Currently the marines are organized into two divisions and a brigade. But part of the expansion will include the formation of a new brigade and helicopter squadron to help guard the North Korean border on the west coast. The aviation battalion will use 40 of the new KUHs (Korean Utility Helicopter). Nicknamed "Surion," KUH carries two pilots and 11 passengers. It can be armed with 7.62mm machine-guns. Some 60 percent of the components are made in South Korea. The 8.7 ton KUH can hover at up to 3,000 meters and has a top speed of 240 kilometers an hour.
Currently, the South Korea marines are is equipped with 60 LVTP-7 amphibious vehicles, 42 AAV-7A1s (a modified version of the U.S. LVTP-7) and 60 K-1 tanks. This force is officially under the control of the South Korean Navy, but usually operates under command of the army. Currently, about 5,000 marines are stationed in the area, including nearby islands. The new brigade will expand this force.
The South Korean marines are considered an elite force, even though many of the troops are draftees. But all the marines are volunteers, and the training is tough. It's considered an honor to be a marine, and their original mentors, the U.S. Marine Corps, has long acknowledged that their Korean counterparts learned their lessons well.