South Korea on Track to Assume Defense Lead
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2009 South Korea’s military is on track to assume the lead for its nation’s defense as scheduled a little more than two years from now, the top U.S. military officer posted there said here today.
Under an agreement with the United States, South Korea is slated to assume wartime operational control of its military forces on April 17, 2012.
The South Korean military possesses the professionalism and capability “to take command of a war fight, if we had to go to war on the peninsula,” Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp said today at the Center for Strategy and International Studies, a Washington “think tank.”
Sharp has commanded United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces in Korea since June 2008. About 28,500 U.S. forces serve in South Korea, Sharp said, a number that’s expected to remain about the same for the foreseeable future.
Exercises to evaluate restructuring of command and control and staffing systems to accommodate the upcoming transition are being conducted, Sharp said.
After the transition occurs in 2012, U.S. ground and naval assets will come under South Korean leadership in the event of war on the peninsula, the general said. However, he added, the United States will maintain command and control of its air assets under the agreement.
The U.S.-South Korean military partnership also will be augmented by an improved staffing system designed to enhance wartime coordination and communications between the leaders of U.S., South Korean, and allied forces.
It only makes sense that South Korea takes responsibility for its national defense, Sharp said, noting senior South Korean officers inherently know important aspects of their native land.
The transfer of the lead to South Korea in wartime military operations on the Korean peninsula also sends a strong signal to North Korea, Sharp said, noting the United States will continue to support and help defend South Korea with all the forces necessary after the transition.
“The Republic of Korea military is professional and strong enough that they will be the lead and we will commit to that alliance,” Sharp said. South Korea has more than 600,000 active duty troops, and it has continued efforts to modernize its military since the 1980s.
To delay the transition, he said, would signal to North Korea that: “No, we’re really not ready to do this yet, and the military of South Korea is not strong enough.”
Meanwhile, the general said, U.S. and South Korean authorities are working to make the transition happen in April 2012.
“And, I really do believe that we’re on track to do that,” he said.