By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceSeptember 17, 2010
SEOUL, South Korea, Sept. 17, 2010 - Though all systems were "go" toward transferring wartime operational control of forces here to South Korea in 2012, delaying that transition at the South Korean government's request will enable a broad range of initiatives to unfold in a more synchronized way, the top U.S. commander said.
These initiatives, embodied in the new Strategic Alliance 2015 agreement announced last week, provide "a much more comprehensive, complete package" to shape the U.S.-South Korean alliance for the future, Army Gen. Walter L. "Skip" Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command and United Nations Command, told American Forces Press Service.
The new plan covers transferring wartime "opcon" -- operational control -- to South Korea, developing new war plans, introducing broader and more realistic exercises, reviewing both countries' military organizational structures and timing the movement of U.S. forces south of Seoul and ensuring South Korean forces are ready, he explained.
The plan, Sharp said, also will help to identify military capabilities South Korean forces will need in 2015, and to ensure that South Korean acquisition, training and organizational efforts are geared toward achieving them.
In addition, he said, the plan will establish "bridging capabilities" the U.S. military will continue to provide after initial opcon transfer, and what both countries will contribute for the long term.
"In the past, 'opcon' transfer was completely focused on just Republic of Korea taking over on 17 April 2012," Sharp said. "Now, we are trying to take and synchronize all of these things in order to be able to make it that by 2015."
Sharp said he had been confident that everything was on track to transfer wartime operational control to South Korea as planned on April 17, 2012. He praised the South Korean military's performance after the annual Key Resolve exercise in March, outlining to Congress the final steps needed to prepare for opcon transfer: completion of a new bilateral war plan and refinements to the command-and-control system and other processes.
That was before definitive proof that North Korea was responsible for sinking the South Korean naval ship Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors.
As tensions mounted on the Korean peninsula, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak asked President Barack Obama in early June to delay the transition.
"President Obama reinforced that militarily we are ready to do it in 2012, but on behalf of the alliance, he agreed that we would delay it to late 2015," Sharp said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who subsequently met with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, decided to take advantage of the additional time to move forward on a broad scope of other initiatives, all aimed at strengthening the alliance, Sharp said.
Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and their South Korean counterparts agreed to the overarching concepts in the Strategic Alliance 2015 plan during their "2 plus 2" talks here in July, Sharp said.
The plan, announced last week, lays out the framework for these efforts, he said.
"It's really a synchronization of many of the initiatives that we were going to work on in series, but now we can work on them in parallel and make them synchronized with the Republic of Korea gaining enough capability to truly be in control of the warfight by 2015," the general said.
The plan includes a new mission analysis of war plans, Sharp said, to ensure they're reflective of emerging conditions on the Korean peninsula.
"We are re-looking the full range of op plans and making sure they are very realistic for what we see North Korea doing over the next five years or so," Sharp said. "We are looking at what North Korea has done recently, in the past, and what they are saying they are going to do."
The plan also will reflect growing capabilities within the U.S.-South Korean alliance during the next five years, he said.
Strategic Alliance 2015 also ushers in more realistic exercise scenarios. In addition to focusing on an all-out attack by North Korea, they'll incorporate scenarios of involving lower-level provocations, and the crisis management processes needed to deal with them, Sharp said.
And building on lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, the exercises will reinforce noncombat as well as combat skills, he added.
"We are incorporating as part of the exercises the full range of what soldiers and all servicemembers will have to be able to do in the future, from the full kinetic to stabilization and reconstruction," Sharp said.
Meanwhile, both the South Korean and U.S. militaries are reviewing their organizational structures to ensure they're fully prepared to reverse the current supporting-supported construct in 2015. At the same time, U.S. Forces Korea is working to ensure a smooth movement of its troops south of the South Korean capital of Seoul on a timetable that supports other initiatives under way.
"We are taking a look to determine the synchronization of our move from [U.S. Army Garrison] Yongsan and the 2nd Infantry Division down to Camp Humphreys," Sharp said. "We want to synchronize the move for when it makes sense, for when we are going through the organizational changes to be prepared after 2015, when [the South Korean joint chiefs of staff become] the leader in the warfight."
Sharp acknowledged that the United States will continue to provide "bridging capabilities" for a limited period after initial opcon transfer, but said the Strategic Alliance 2015 agreement also will look longer-term.
"What capabilities do we maintain here for a period of time past opcon transfer'" he said. "And then, what do both countries look at for the enduring capabilities we will always bring to the alliance as long as there is a North Korean threat'"
The next step in the process will take place at the U.S.-Korea Security Consultative Meeting scheduled Oct. 7 and 8. During that session, participants will work through "a much more detailed plan for each of the different components," laying out tasks and setting milestones to get the various initiatives synchronized and on schedule for 2015, Sharp said.
Testifying earlier this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the general expressed deep confidence in the Strategic Alliance 2015 plan.
"Strategic Alliance 2015 will enable the Republic of Korea and U.S. forces to successfully confront future security challenges and set the conditions for lasting peace in the Korean peninsula and the region," Sharp told the committee. "The Republic of Korea and the United States are more strongly united than ever before to deter North Korean provocations and aggression, and to defeat them if necessary."