“Early” Transfer of OPCON of Military Forces to Korea Will Not Happen Until Early 2020’s

One of ROK President Moon’s top priorities after taking office was to push for the early transfer of OPCON to ROK forces.  The US government has pretty told him if he wants it he can have it, but the US side of the command will be downgraded to a three-star general:

Gen. Kim Byung-ju, deputy commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, answers a question during lawmakers’ audit of the defense ministry affairs on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

The South Korean and U.S. militaries will soon formalize a plan to create a new combined command, which will become effective when Seoul regains its wartime operational control (OPCON) of the country’s troops, the Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.

The allies plan to approve the scheme in their annual Military Committee Meeting (MCM) and Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) later this month, it told lawmakers.

The MCM is an annual session involving the chairmen of the allies’ Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). This year’s meeting will be held in Seoul on Oct. 27, a day before the ministerial SCM.

“(The two sides) will authorize the creation of the future command of combined forces during the MCM and the SCM,” the ministry said in a report for a regular parliamentary audit of its affairs.

The allies will then draw up a specific scheme to establish a system to have a South Korean commander and a U.S. deputy commander, it added.  (……..)

But the U.S. is reportedly negative about the idea of a four-star general serving as a South Korean commander’s deputy in the envisioned command. The Pentagon is expected to pick a three-star general for the position.

The left-leaning Moon Jae-in administration, which took office in May, has pushed for an early OPCON transfer.

It’s considering a three-stage road map: laying the groundwork for strengthening the country’s own defense capabilities, joint military drills organized by the future combined forces starting in 2019, and an actual OPCON transition in the early 2020s.  [Yonhap via reader tip]

You an read more at the link, but I find it interesting that President Moon wants the OPCON so bad, but is willing to let it be pushed off until the early 2020’s when Moon will likely be out of office.  There is enough time between now and then for this to once again be delayed by the ROK government.

As far as the structure of the US Forces under a three star general it appears that the old KORCOM template from nearly a decade ago will be used:

Oten said KORCOM will have “many similarities” to USFK, but eventually will become a supporting command after South Korea becomes responsible for wartime operational control of its troops on April 17, 2012. On that date, the Combined Forces Command, the joint warfighting command now led by a U.S. general, will dissolve.

In its place will be what USFK calls two complementary but separate commands — the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by a South Korean general, and KORCOM. The CFC commander, Sharp, will remain responsible for leading forces until that time if war breaks out, USFK officials said. Both nations will retain control of their own troops during peace and wartime, but KORCOM will support the South Korean command during wartime, USFK officials said.

South Korea has had armistice control of its troops since 1994, but its forces would fall under the command of the CFC during a war.

Sharp said in recent speeches that KORCOM will reach full operational capability in 2011 and will become a supporting command to its South Korean counterpart the following year.

As part of the transition, the 8th Army will transform from an Army service component command into an “operational, warfighting headquarters” called field army, Sharp said Monday in a speech at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

“This headquarters will have the ability to command and control U.S. and multinational corps-equivalent units in combat,” he said.

Maj. Jerry Pionk, 8th Army spokesman, who described an Army service component command as “basically a force provider to a theater commander,” said the transformation to a field army is ongoing and will continue for several years. A lieutenant general will continue to command the 8th Army after the change is complete, he said.  [Stars & Stripes – April 13, 2010]

Considering how much can change between now and this “early” OPCON transfer I put this all in the category of I will believe it when I see it.



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.

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