Top Air Force general tapped as new Joint Chiefs chair
Gen. Won In-choul, the Air Force chief of staff, has been nominated to chair Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the Ministry of National Defense announced on Monday.
Won, 59, must undergo a confirmation hearing by the National Assembly before he can be appointed by President Moon Jae-in to succeed outgoing JCS Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki.
The third-ever Air Force figure to be appointed to Korea’s highest military role, Won follows in the footsteps of Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, who was one of Won’s predecessors as Air Force chief of staff before he was promoted to JCS chairman, and finally to defense minister in 2018.
Won’s nomination also follows that of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook, who was tapped by Moon to succeed Jeong as defense minister last week.
“Air Force Chief of Staff Won In-choul possesses a strategic mindset and an excellent capability to command operations, as well as the capacity and expertise in pursuing national defense reform and wartime operational control [Opcon],” said a ministry spokesperson.
The administration’s decision to reshuffle the country’s top military brass may have been scheduled to meet the time frame for this year’s Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting slated for November. With its plans to retrieve Opcon hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Blue House has been angling to use the conference to address the timetable for the Opcon transfer.
Won belongs to the Air Force Academy’s class of 1980, making him a year older than Defense Minister nominee Suh, who entered the Korea Military Academy in 1981.
It is a rare case in the Korea military that a figure from a junior class is appointed to a higher rank over a senior figure, making the nomination a surprise choice.
The ministry explained that Won’s experience as a deputy JCS chairman gave him experience in commanding forces from the military’s other branches.
Won’s nomination was also regarded as a surprise given that his recent tenure as Air Force chief of staff was mired by a scandal involving gapjil, or abuse of power, by a conscripted soldier in the Air Force.
The soldier in question, who was apparently from a wealthy family, was allegedly given a private room and made a higher ranked non-commissioned officer do his personal bidding — allegations that sparked intense controversy about the breakdown of hierarchy in the military.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]