By Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparotti, commander, UN Command, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces KoreaOctober 2, 2015
Today 28,500 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines continue to serve in the Republic of Korea (ROK) upholding the Armistice and maintaining stability in one of the world's most strategic locations. Through the United Nations Command (UNC), Combined Forces Command (CFC), and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), we conduct operations from the tactical to strategic levels in a multinational, combined, and joint environment to serve our nation's interests and those of our allies and partners. Standing as the embodiment of one of history's most successful alliances, CFC deters aggression and stands prepared to "Fight Tonight" if deterrence fails. While CFC is central to our nation's security commitment to the ROK and regional stability, UNC serves several vital roles including maintaining the armistice and as a multinational enabler to the defense of the ROK. USFK compliments both CFC and UNC through the provision of combat ready U.S. forces. All three commands are honored to serve the people of Korea, and our gracious Korean host supports our mission and presence.
Northeast Asia remains one of the world's most precarious potential flashpoints in the world. It is home to four of the world's six largest militaries that have historically competed for both territory and resources. The region also contains the world's 2nd (China), 3rd (Japan), and 13th (ROK) largest economies. Any instability or conflict in the region can immediately place our global economy and U.S. interests tied to the region at risk. Our Alliance with the ROK and enduring presence remain the key to deterring aggression on the Korean Peninsula and supporting the region's uninterrupted preservation and growth.
Unfortunately, Northeast Asia lacks effective multilateral security mechanisms geared toward conflict prevention and resolution. As a tool of stability in the region, the U.S.-ROK Alliance maintains a high state of readiness to deter aggression on the Korean Peninsula. Within the Alliance, the ROK is one of the world's most effective international actors and a partner that is second-to-none. The U.S. and the ROK can also count on the UNC and its sending states -- a coalition of 18 nations with deep and long-standing commitments to regional security.
North Korea's provocations and acts of coercion remain a significant threat to American interests, the security and prosperity of the ROK, and the stability of the international community. The strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance deters North Korea's aging military from attempting to reunify the Koreas by force. Recognizing our strength, North Korea has opted for a coercive strategy of little to no notice provocations against the ROK and its military. In support of this strategy, the North continues to develop nuclear weapons technology and ballistic missile programs, as well as conduct cyber operations. Despite UN Security Council Resolutions and international sanctions, North Korea continues to proliferate weapons and commit crimes against humanity.
EXAMINING THE LAST YEAR
Over the past year, we achieved milestones in several areas to counter the threat from North Korea and help maintain regional stability by: defining conditions to achieve transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON transfer) to the ROK; establishing a U.S.-ROK Combined Division (U.S. 2nd Infantry Division) while increasing rotational unit deployments to the ROK; and enhancing our readiness and response capabilities by further developing the Tailored Deterrence Strategy.
CONDITIONS FOR OPCON TRANSFER
During the October 2014 Military Committee Meeting and Security Consultative Meeting, our Alliance established a conditions based approach for OPCON transfer to the ROK. This bilateral decision ensures our combined defense posture remains unwavering while the ROK develops or acquires the critical military capabilities necessary to lead our combined defense on the peninsula. Key capabilities include ISR, command and control platforms, artillery fires capabilities, ballistic missile defense, and precision munitions. During an April, 2015 visit to the ROK, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called the agreement, "a significant alliance decision." He stated both he and ROK Minister of Defense Han Min Koo remain committed to OPCON transfer and Alliance transformation.
COMBINED DIVISION AND ROTATIONAL UNITS
In 2015, we established a U.S. and ROK Combined Division, built upon the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, that embodies the values of our Quality Alliance - mutual trust, respect, combined decision making, and open communication. The previous 2nd Infantry Division Commanding General, Major General Thomas Vandal, attested that the new combined Division will, "take the strengths of the U.S. Army and our forces, and the strengths of the ROK military, and together provide a much more powerful organization."
Rotational units continue to deploy to Korea for nine month tours, enhancing and representing the U.S. commitment to provide mission-ready and culturally attuned capabilities. In June of 2015, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, will arrive in the ROK, replacing the 1st ABCT, 2nd Infantry Division. Additionally, Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR) continued rotating U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) to enhance capability, relationships, and interoperability with our ROK and multinational SOF partners. Rotational units expose more U.S. Service Members to our unique mission, enhance readiness, and reinforce our enduring partnership.
The Alliance continued to implement its Tailored Deterrence Strategy (TDS) to counter North Korea's asymmetric threats. The TDS aims to alter North Korean decision-making by encouraging restraint from using WMD or ballistic missiles, denying the benefits of their use, and raising the cost to North Korea for WMD or ballistic missile use. The strategy provides a potent framework for actions that enhances deterrence and deepens our commitment to enacting "Alliance Solutions to Alliance Problems." These actions include collaborative decision-making, assessments, plans, capability developments, acquisitions, training, and operations.
Although we have accomplished much, we must continue to transform. We will focus on three critical areas: strengthening the Alliance through realistic, challenging training; improving our Alliance capabilities; and relocating U.S. forces south of Seoul.
STRENGTHENING THE ALLIANCE
Our multinational-combined- joint exercises give us the ability to train and rehearse with our ROK partners and UNC Sending States. The exercises enhance readiness and deterrence while sustaining and strengthening the Alliance. Exercising conventional and SOF forces provides a full spectrum of multi-echelon capabilities to deter the North Korean threat. The CFC and ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff conduct three annual combined, joint exercises: ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN (UFG), KEY RESOLVE (KR), and FOAL EAGLE. UFG and KR are computer-simulated, theater-level command post exercises. They enhance our deterrence capabilities by preparing the CFC, the ROK Military, USFK, and our major component commands to react to North Korean aggression and defend the ROK. We will continue the trend of the last several years wherein UNC Sending States have qualitatively and quantitatively enhanced their participation in exercises. Additionally, Swedish and Swiss observers from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission will participate to promote a credible assessment of the exercises.
IMPROVING ALLIANCE CAPABILITIES
With regards to transforming the Alliance's capabilities, the ROK will further its war fighting capability and interoperability by advancing procurement and integration of critical systems and platforms. Last year the ROK military progressed by budgeting for and taking steps toward the procurement of PATRIOT PAC-3s, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, AH-64E Apaches Helicopters, and RQ-4 Global Hawks. As these capabilities are fielded, they will strengthen the Alliance and ensure dominance of the evolving North Korean threat. To ensure readiness, the U.S. will continue to support critical areas, such as counter-fire capabilities, as the ROK military develops and acquires its own systems.
RELOCATING SOUTH OF SEOUL
Lastly, U.S. Forces will continue to relocate south of Seoul as construction peaks in 2015. The U.S. Army Garrison at Camp Humphreys will have approximately 16,000 workers building new facilities in the summer of 2015. In the coming years, Service Members in Korea will transition to a newly built and modern Camp Humphreys as it triples in size. Ongoing construction projects include unit headquarters, barracks, family housing, medical facilities, a "Midtown Community" complex, schools, and installation service facilities -- all the essentials and more for a family coming to Korea. Along with USFK, the headquarters of Eighth Army, Marine Corps Forces Korea (MARFOR-K) and SOCKOR will relocate to Camp Humphreys in the near future. Currently undergoing relocation, the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea (CNFK) is moving to Busan to collocate its headquarters with the ROK Fleet. The transition and relocation will increase day-to-day operational efficiencies and our force readiness through consolidation of personnel and facilities.
AN ENDURING ALLIANCE MAKING HISTORY
As we continue to transform our Alliance, our 28,500 men and women serving in Korea stand ready to defend "Freedom's Frontier" and ensure a stable and prosperous future for our nation and our allies. Our Service Members empower an Alliance while actively contributing to a multinational, joint, and combined environment with a diverse mission set and partners ready to make a difference. An assignment in the ROK offers the opportunity to be a part of a unique Alliance -- one that has, and continues to make history while advancing the interests and values of our nation and those of our allies.