South, U.S. upgrade joint war plan to repel North

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South, U.S. upgrade joint war plan to repel North

South Korea and the United States have updated their war plan to counter a North Korean invasion with a more assertive scenario, a senior military official told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, on Wednesday.

The new plan, code-named Operations Plan (OPLAN) 5015, replaced an earlier war plan known as OPLAN 5027. The two countries started discussing the new war plan in 2013 and completed it recently after three years of discussion, according to the source.

OPLAN 5027 was based on the concept that if North Korea invaded, South Korean and U.S. forces would first retract, realign and strike back.

Under the new war plan, if there is a clear sign of an invasion, the combined forces will strike back at the North as soon as it launches the attack, focusing on destruction of nuclear and missile facilities as top priority targets. This translates into de facto preemptive strikes against the North’s weapons of mass destruction.

According to the source, OPLAN 5015 was signed in June between top military officials of South Korea and the United States. Admiral Choi Yoon-hee, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea, and General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea and the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, signed the updated plan, he said.

OPLAN 5015 was first used during the latest joint military exercise, Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, which started on Aug. 17, the source said.

South Korea and the United States also agreed to reflect the North Korean military buildup and mobilization of the past week, when tensions rose over land mine explosions and shelling across the border, to further upgrade the war plan.

At a National Assembly hearing on Wednesday, National Defense Minister Han Min-koo said the plan has recently been updated and will be modified after the joint military drill. He refrained from elaborating further on the details.

In 1974, South Korea and the United States created OPLAN 5027, which is updated periodically. The first update was in 1994, when the United States created a plan to bomb the North’s nuclear complex in Yongbyon. That war plan was named OPLAN 5027-94.

After Seoul and Washington agreed that South Korea will take over wartime operational control of its troops by the end of this year, the two sides started discussing a new war plan, OPLAN 5015, to replace OPLAN 5027. Although the two sides agreed to delay the timing of the transfer to early 2020, they continued to work on the new war plan and completed OPLAN 5015 earlier this year.

“The North recently bolstered its capabilities with nuclear arms and missiles,” the source said. “If we strike back after an attack has already taken place, the damage will be too devastating. So the concept will be incapacitating the North’s attack capabilities within the shortest time period.”

The new war plan also includes a contingency plan, signed by Seoul and Washington in March 2013, to counter small-scale North Korean attacks like the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

Although the South Korean military wants to operate the contingency plan separately from OPLAN 5015, the United States wanted to have a role in any local provocation because the South’s response could trigger a war.

While the war plan for the Joint Chiefs of Staff level has been completed, more work is needed to create detailed operational plans for lower units. The specific plans will be wrapped up before the end of this year, the source said, adding that the latest North Korean military movements would be factored into them.

The latest tensions on the Korean Peninsula also provided South Korea and the United States with a rare opportunity to study North Korea’s preparation for a war.

After tensions escalated last week, the North activated some of its air defense radars, indicating that it was preparing to shoot down incoming South Korean and U.S. aircraft with missiles. The North also deployed additional artillery pieces near the demilitarized zone, hinting that their targets would be populated areas in the capital region.

Signs were also detected that the North was preparing to launch short- or medium-range SCUD missiles. The missiles can reach all areas in the South, including the U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, southern Gyeonggi.

Special warfare forces, which normally stay in the rear, also moved to frontline units using trucks. Military planners said they would be used to infiltrate the South immediately after artillery firing.

The North Korean Navy also moved. The biggest concern was the mobilization of submarines in the eastern and western waters.

“More than 70 percent of the North’s submarines left their bases,” a National Defense Ministry official said.

The mobilization indicated that dozens of submarines would infiltrate special warfare forces into southern territory.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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