U.S.-South Korea Exercises Will Resume

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2010 — The top U.S. com­man­der in South Korea yes­ter­day expressed con­fi­dence that the next in a series of U.S.-South Kore­an mil­i­tary exer­cis­es designed to improve readi­ness and send a deter­rent mes­sage to North Korea will pro­ceed soon.

Army Gen. Wal­ter L. “Skip” Sharp said he expects the next exer­cise, which was tem­porar­i­ly post­poned due to sched­ul­ing prob­lems, will be resched­uled in the not-too-dis­tant future. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and South Kore­an Nation­al Defense Min­is­ter Kim Tae-young agreed this sum­mer to con­duct the “Invin­ci­ble Spir­it” exer­cise series after North Korea sank the South Kore­an navy ship Cheo­nan in March, killing 47 South Kore­an sailors.

“Over the remain­der of this year and into the future, we are going to con­tin­ue with a series of exer­cis­es that looks very direct­ly at how we can strength­en the alliance based on what we see going on in North Korea,” Sharp told a Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel reporter yes­ter­day.

So far, two Invin­ci­ble Spir­it exer­cis­es have been con­duct­ed. The first, in July, focused on naval and air readi­ness. Ear­li­er this month, the U.S. and South Kore­an navies wrapped up five days of anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare exer­cis­es in the Kore­an penin­su­la.

The third exer­cise, which ten­ta­tive­ly had been slat­ed for late Octo­ber, was to include the USS George Wash­ing­ton air­craft car­ri­er in oper­a­tions in inter­na­tion­al waters off the west­ern coast of Korea.

As the Unit­ed States and South Korea chart the alliance’s way ahead for the next sev­er­al years through a plan called the “Strate­gic Alliance 2015,” Sharp said big empha­sis is going into mak­ing the exer­cise pro­gram more real­is­tic and reflec­tive of the North Kore­an threat.

Gates and Kim dis­cussed these plans and oth­er aspects of the far-rang­ing Strate­gic Alliance 2015 agree­ment ear­li­er this month dur­ing the 42nd annu­al Secu­ri­ty Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing here.

“All coun­tries of the region are con­cerned with what is going on in North Korea,” Sharp said, cit­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile shoots, nuclear tests and oth­er threat­en­ing acts such as the Cheo­nan sink­ing.

The Unit­ed States and South Korea are “con­stant­ly watch­ing what North Korea is doing,” Sharp said.

Mean­while, the gen­er­al said it’s not too late for North Korea to make amends.

“As we go into the future, North Korea has an oppor­tu­ni­ty here to be able to change their ways and to become much more respon­si­ble — to denu­clearize, to [address]… human rights with­in the coun­try and to stop the provo­ca­tions that they have been doing,” he said.

Sharp said North Korea also has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to offi­cial­ly apol­o­gize for sink­ing the Cheo­nan — an act it con­tin­ues to deny.

In response to a North Kore­an apol­o­gy, the gen­er­al said, the world com­mu­ni­ty could help impov­er­ished North Korea improve con­di­tions for its peo­ple.

“Whether North Korea takes advan­tage of that oppor­tu­ni­ty is yet to be seen,” he said. “But I think all the coun­tries of the region are clear­ly say­ing, ‘This is the time to do it.’ ” Mean­while, Sharp said the Strate­gic Alliance 2015 plan will be instru­men­tal in tak­ing the U.S.-South Korea alliance to the next lev­el in prepa­ra­tion for 2015, when South Korea is to assume wartime oper­a­tional con­trol of its forces. The time­line was delayed from 2012, at South Korea’s request.

While pos­tur­ing both coun­tries’ mil­i­taries for oper­a­tional con­trol, or “opcon,” trans­fer in five years and bol­ster­ing their exist­ing exer­cise pro­gram, the plan also cov­ers a broad range of oth­er ini­tia­tives, includ­ing devel­op­ing new war plans, review­ing mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures and tim­ing the move­ment of U.S. forces south of Seoul.

Strate­gic Alliance 2015 will allow these ini­tia­tives to pro­ceed in a syn­chro­nized way that will fur­ther strength­en an already-robust alliance, Sharp said.

“The Repub­lic of Korea mil­i­tary is very, very strong and very capa­ble and has great lead­ers,” he said. “But this move to do ‘opcon’ trans­fer in 2015 will allow us, not only to con­tin­ue to work to strength­en mil­i­tar­i­ly the Repub­lic of Korea and U.S. [forces], but also to be able to strength­en our pos­ture and orga­ni­za­tions and units we have.”

When the tran­si­tion takes place in 2015, “we will be even stronger than what we would have been if we had changed it in 2012,” Sharp said.

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

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