South, U.S. hope Korean will lead war games

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South, U.S. hope Korean will lead war games

South Korea and the United States are aiming to have a four-star Korean general lead joint military exercises this summer to test Seoul’s ability to take back wartime operational control (Opcon) of its troops, officials said Tuesday.

For the combined command-post exercise slated for August, Seoul and Washington are planning the assessment of the initial operational capability (IOC) with a South Korean general in charge of the Combined Forces Command (CFC), according to the officials.

South Korea is supposed to regain wartime Opcon from the United States when conditions become right. The IOC certification of a South Korea-led combined defense posture is widely seen as a first test for the envisioned transfer.

“If South Korea conducts it without a hitch, the Opcon transfer process would continue smoothly,” a Seoul official said. The allies eye around 2022 as their target for the transfer.

Last year, the South Korean and U.S. defense ministers agreed to carry out such an IOC verification in 2019. After that, they will verify Seoul’s full operational and full mission capabilities.

The allies’ summertime combined exercise is expected to take place in August and will partly replace their Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise as part of efforts to support diplomacy involving North Korea.

In the first half, the allies abolished their springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises and instead launched the new Dong Maeng command post exercise in March. Dong Maeng means alliance.

“Based upon the results of this assessment, updates on South Korea’s operational capabilities will be provided to South Korean and U.S. defense chiefs for their continued consultations on the Opcon matter,” the official added.

South Korea handed over operational control of its troops to the commander of the U.S.-led United Nations (UN) Command during the 1950-53 Korean War. It was then transferred to the chief of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) when the command was launched in 1978.

South Korea retook peacetime Opcon in 1994, but the United States still possesses Opcon in the event of war. The transfer of wartime control was supposed to occur in 2015 but was postponed as the allies agreed the previous year to a conditions-based handover in the face of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

The three conditions for the Opcon transfer are: South Korea shall acquire key military capabilities to lead their combined forces; it shall secure capabilities to make early responses to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats; and security circumstances on the Korean Peninsula and in the region shall be conducive to an Opcon transfer.

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