Sharp Salutes South Korea’s Military Forces
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 Annual exercises that wrapped up last week demonstrated not only that the U.S. and South Korean militaries are ready to “fight tonight” if needed to defend South Korea, but also that the South Korean military is on a solid path toward assuming wartime control of its forces, the top U.S. commander there said.
U.S. forces will be prepared to transition wartime operational control to the South Korean joint chiefs of staff as scheduled April 17, 2012, Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp told the House and Senate Armed Services committees yesterday and this morning.
This year’s Key Resolve exercise focused on ensuring the two countries’ military staffs are trained and ready to go to war if required, Sharp said. But as they tested their war plans during one of the world’s largest simulated exercises, which ran from March 8 to 18, he said, they also built on groundwork being laid for the “opcon” transfer.
“It was a great success,” Sharp said during an interview yesterday with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service. “We have really made a lot of progress in developing our command-and-control systems [and] developing a way in which we are able to see the battlefield.”
Sharp said he has full confidence that the South Korean military will be prepared to assume wartime as well as peacetime control of their forces as scheduled. At that point, U.S. forces will become the supporting command to the South Korean military.
“It is the right time to do this,” Sharp said. “I believe the Republic of Korea military is definitely ready to do this.”
But to be militarily prepared for the transition, he said, a new war plan first needs to be put in place, and the command-and-control system and other processes have to be refined. Work is under way to complete a single, bilateral war plan that will take effect when the transfer takes place, Sharp said. The plan is now in its second version, and will be revised further after the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise this summer, he added.
Meanwhile, the general said, the two militaries are fine-tuning their processes and putting the structures in place to ensure a smooth transition.
“We are standing up the organizations already to be able to make sure that the organizational structures … are completely up and operational,” Sharp said. Both U.S. Forces Korea, which will become U.S. Korea Command when operational control transfers, and the South Korean military headquarters and components are preparing for the transition.
Sharp also pointed to the combined information cell that has already been stood up as an example of what’s to come.
“We are working hard on the command-and-control system and the processes in order to be able to make sure we have a seamless command-and-control between Korea Command, the supporting command, and the [South Korean joint chiefs], the supported command,” he said.
Noting that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, Sharp said the Korean military has proven itself to be up to the task.
“It really starts with the individual troop level, and the training and the equipment that the Korean military has today,” he said. “They’re a very professional military, … and it goes through the command structure to the top level.”
Sharp credited the strong U.S.-South Korean alliance with providing stability on the Korean peninsula for almost 60 years and enabling South Korea to emerge as a secure, prosperous nation.
“Since 1950, Congress and the American people have made an enormous investment in blood and treasure to first defeat and then deter North Korean aggression,” he told Congress. “This alliance continues to reap the returns of that investment.”
But while focusing on its most immediate mission – protecting South Korea – the South Korean military also has become an important contributor to peacekeeping and disaster response missions around the world, Sharp noted.
“The Republic of Korea is fast becoming a global strategic ally,” he said. “From a military standpoint, they are already stepping up to the plate with deployments to help security and stability in Haiti, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other places around the world. I see that growing in the future.”
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak signed a joint vision for the alliance in April that recognizes South Korea’s broader role beyond its own borders.
“What President Lee has said is, ‘Hey, we have gone for many, many years with other countries helping us in the Republic of Korea,’” Sharp said. “[Lee has said,] ‘We are now at a point that we ought to be giving back to the world.’ And that is where this alliance is going in the future.”