A Korean four-star general is expected to lead joint military drills with the US in August to test Seoul’s readiness to take over wartime operational control of its troops.
The first joint exercise for assessment of initial operational capability (IOC), to be held during the combined command-post exercise in August, is likely to be led by a Korean general, according to the ROK-US Combined Forces Command (CFC) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The wartime OPCON transfer to Korea will proceed as planned only if it passes the IOC assessment, military officials said. If the results show that the Korean armed forces are not ready, the OPCON transfer can be delayed to after around 2022.
Once the Korean military takes over OPCON, a Korean general will be the chief of CFC, and the US Forces Korea commander, who is the current chief of the CFC, will serve as the deputy commander.
US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said during a US Land Forces Pacific (LANPAC) symposium in Hawaii last week that an assessment is expected to take place in August with a South Korean four-star general in charge of the CFC under the stress of simulated crisis and contingency.
The South Korean and US defense ministers agreed last year to conduct an IOC verification in 2019, after which they will test Seoul’s full operational and full mission capabilities.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the USFK Command will report the results of the IOC assessment to the ROK-US Military Committee Meeting in October.
In an annual report to President Moon Jae-in on plans for 2019 made last December, the Defense Ministry said it would focus all armed forces’ efforts on preparing for the first IOC verification and assessment.
South Korea handed over operational control of its troops to the commander of the US-led UN Command during the 1950-53 Korean War. It was later transferred to the chief of the CFC when it was launched in 1978.
South Korea regained peacetime OPCON in 1994, but the US still has wartime OPCON. The transfer of wartime control was previously scheduled to take place in 2015, but was postponed as the allies agreed on a conditions-based handover due to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.