Südkorea — Sharp Salutes South Korea’s Military Forces

Sharp Salutes South Korea’s Mil­i­tary Forces

WASHINGTON — 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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)