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US Adds Rocket Launch Unit in South Korea

FILE - A rocket is launched from an MLRS during a training exercise involving part of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division and the South Korean army at Cheorwon, South Korea, June 2012.

The U.S. Army is deploying a battalion to South Korea that will add 400 troops to the approximately 28,500 U.S. military personnel now in the country.

The new rotational Army battalion will arrive in June at Camp Casey, north of Seoul, and will be equipped with multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) — armored vehicles that fire surface-to-surface artillery rockets.

“It’s defensive capability," said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Don Peters. "Its main function — and what it’s very good at doing — is counter-battery fire, which is when someone launches artillery at you, MLRS goes in and fires back.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Friday that U.S. commanders in South Korea had not requested the extra troops and firepower.

“This addition of MLRS capability on the peninsula is a result of an Army reorganization and not the result of an increased threat," Warren said.

The U.S. Army announced plans to reorganize in 2013 after budget cuts forced the service to reduce its active-duty troop numbers from 570,000 to 490,000.

As part of the restructuring, the Army has eliminated some of its field artillery brigade headquarters units and is spreading the MLRS battalions among the remaining artillery brigades. The unit will leave its equipment in South Korea at the conclusion of the deployment so other battalions can use it as they rotate in.

The Army said the nine-month rotational unit for South Korea allows the service to preserve combat power in the region. The change will create a small net increase in the number of multiple launch rocket systems in South Korea.

Peters said the Army is converting from two units to three smaller units, as it is doing in South Korea, with the rest of its service worldwide. He told VOA Friday that the Army "just finished one of the first conversions" earlier this month in the 1st Armored Division in Fort Bliss, Texas.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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