Thursday, December 30, 2010

S. Korea To Create Joint Forces Command

SEOUL - South Korea's military plans to create a joint forces operational command in coming years under its planned restructuring of the country's military command system for the first time in more than two decades.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak received the plan on Dec. 29. (Dong-a Ilbo / Agence France-Presse)
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) reported the plan to President Lee Myung-bak on Dec. 29 as part of a sweeping military reform package with 73 short-, mid- and long-term goals.
The move comes amid growing calls to improve interoperability between the three wings of the armed forces in order to better respond to provocations by North Korea, which sank a South Korean warship and shelled a southern island earlier this year. The back-to-back provocations claimed a total of 50 lives of South Korean soldiers and citizens.
It is also designed to prepare for the planned transition of wartime operational command of South Korean troops from the U.S. to South Korea in 2015. Under the command rearrangement plans, South Korea and the United States will operate separate war-fighting theater commands on the Korean Peninsula after deactivating the U.S.-led Combined Forces Command.
Earlier, Seoul planned to transform the Joint Chiefs of Staff into a Joint Forces Command (JFC).
"Whether the JCS chairman will concurrently serve as the JFC head or another four-star general will lead the JFC has yet to be decided," said Jang Kwang-il, deputy minister for policy. "We'll make a final decision after gathering opinions at public hearings."
Once a final decision is made, the MND will ask the National Assembly to revise laws pertaining to the military command structure by the end of next year, Jang said.
According to Jang, the JFC chief will not only have operational command authority but also the responsibility for managing military personnel of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Currently, each chief of staff of the three services has the authority of managing his own troops, while the JCS chairman is only responsible for commanding joint operations of the three services in case of an emergency.
Defense experts say this "dual" structure has often compromised the effectiveness of joint operations.
In an effort to streamline the current military command hierarchy, which was set in 1988, the MND plans to integrate eight operational commands of the three services into three.
There are five operational commands in the Army, two in the Navy with the Marine Corps and one in the Air Force.
The headquarters of the Army, Navy and Air Force will also be scrapped.
To beef up its defense readiness against North Korea near the disputed sea border in waters west of the peninsula, the ministry decided to establish a "West Sea defense command" in responsible for the security of the five islands near the border, Northern Limit Line, the flashpoint for inter-Korean conflicts.
On Nov. 23, the North fired about 170 shells from its artillery guns at Yeonpyeong Island, killing two Marines and two civilians. In March, a South Korean patrol ship was allegedly torpedoed by a North Korean submarine near the border.
The division-sized command will have about 12,000 troops from the three services.
"To better respond to North Korea's artillery or amphibious attacks on the border islands, we'll deploy key weapons systems for precision-guided strikes, surveillance and detection to the islands next year in order to help achieve an early fortification of the islands," the ministry said in the year-end report.
To neutralize North Korean artillery pieces hidden in mountain caves or tunnels, the ministry plans to procure high-tech weapons, such as bunker-buster bombs and Israeli Spike missiles.
It will also deploy more K9 self-propelled howitzers and Swedish ARTHUR artillery-hunting radars near the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, as well as upgrade the C4I digital command network system to thwart the threat posed by North Korea's 300-strong long-range artillery guns more effectively.
The short-term military reform to occur between 2011 and 2012 will focus on fostering battle-ready forces and securing capabilities to deal with North Korea's provocations in limited areas or asymmetric threats of submarine attacks, infiltration by special warfare forces, nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, according to the report.
The mid-term reform to occur between 2013 and 2015 will focus on enhancing defense capabilities in preparation for Seoul's retaking of wartime operational control, it said.
From 2016 and 2030, the military will seek to set up a military structure that "can deal with comprehensive threats," it added.
To that end, the ministry aims to maintain 500,000-strong armed forces by 2020, and the number will be readjusted in consideration of manpower capability by then.

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