South Korea and the United States agreed June 3 to move the headquarters of Combined Forces Command out of the greater Seoul metropolitan area as part of efforts to set up a new joint command structure led by a South Korean four-star general.
The relocation plan, agreed to by South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, has sparked debate over operational efficiency of the future joint command and defense readiness against North Korea. The northern neighbor has deployed much of its artillery in range of Seoul.
“The two sides have shared the understanding that this (relocation) measure will enhance the operational efficiency of the CFC and a combined readiness posture,” the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement, using an acronym for Combined Forces Command.
Under the agreement, the CFC that is currently located in Yongsan, central Seoul, will be relocated to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of Seoul. The sprawling Army garrison, spread over 3,500 acres, is a consolidated base for U.S. troops in South Korea and houses major command posts and combat units stationed in the country.
U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command and the Eighth U.S. Army moved to Camp Humphreys under a base relocation pact signed in 2004. Most of the units belonging to the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division deployed near the Demilitarized Zone were relocated to the rural area under a separate pact signed in 2002.
Originally, the CFC headquarters were to remain in Seoul and move into the local Defense Ministry complex in tandem with the transition of operational control of American and South Korean troops during wartime from a U.S. Army general to a South Korean commander by 2022.
Wartime command authority is currently in the hands of the CFC commander, who serves as chief of U.S. Forces Korea and United Nations Command.
But the plan was overturned by U.S. Gen. Robert Abrams, who was sworn in as CFC commander in November 2018. The general reportedly called for a reconsideration of the CFC’s move to the ministry complex, citing operational efficiency concerns and the cost of establishing accommodations for CFC staffers and their family members.
“At the appropriate future time, ROK and U.S. government leadership will announce an alliance decision on the future CFC headquarters location, which will be in the best interests of the ROK-U.S. Alliance and strengthen CFC’s ability to perform its missions,” Abrams said in a statement May 16, using the acronym for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.
Some security experts in South Korea say the CFC’s relocation to Camp Humphreys will benefit efficiency among U.S. commanders, but they raise concern over the physical separation of South Korean and U.S. commands and how that could impact communication and relationships between the allied forces.
“Simply put, two separate commands far away from each other would be less efficient in terms of joint or combined operational command than a unified command in the same space,” Kim Ki-ho, a former South Korean Army colonel who oversaw military operation planning at the CFC, told Defense News.
“At the CFC headquarters, South Korean commanders can obtain classified information and intelligence from U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets almost in real time, especially in time of North Korea’s military provocations, such as missile test firings,” said Kim, who is now a professor of international politics at Kyonggi University in Seoul. “I’m worried [whether] the commanders of the two militaries could share intelligence more and better than now.”
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo brushed off those concerns.
“In future warfare, geographical distance doesn’t carry significance, and the combined defense posture has been well confirmed through the C4I systems,” she said. “The U.S. has reaffirmed its ironclad security commitment to South Korea, and the allied forces have done their best to achieve the safety and security of the people.”
However, a key adviser to South Korea’s defense minister said the U.S. military doesn’t want to be controlled by a South Korean commander, "whether it’s a [Joint Chiefs of Staff] chairman or a separate four-star general.”
“It seems the U.S. military doesn’t trust the South Korean wartime commanding capability — at least now — and that’s why they want to keep its command-and-control facility at the consolidated base in Pyeongtaek,” said the adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Practically speaking, the adviser added, “even though a South Korean general is selected as CFC commander, he would likely be dependent on the deputy commander from the U.S. military.”
Kim, the former Army colonel, offered a more frank analogy of the envisaged chain of command.
“It’s like a vice chairman, who has 95 percent of shares in his company, is controlled by a chairman with only 5 percent. It’s a really tough mission for the chairman to lead the company independently as planned,” he said.
Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University in Pohang, believes the decision for the U.S. to move a key command away from the capital implies the country doesn't want to play the role of "tripwire" in possible North Korean aggression.
“Instead, the U.S. military would provide air and naval support at a certain level in the case of an emergency,” Park said.
The two allies are scheduled to stage the first-ever South Korea-led
“When I think of an alliance, the word that comes to mind is ‘trust’ — incredible trust between our countries forged in combat nearly 70 years ago,” Shanahan said this month during talks with South Korean officials. “This is also apparent, tremendous strides that the CFC is taking to more rapidly fulfill conditions for the transition of wartime operational control from the U.S. commander to a South Korean commander.”
South Korea is to launch a new version of a large-deck landing ship from which short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft can operate by the late 2020s, amid naval buildups in China and
The decision was made during a July 12 meeting of top brass presided over by Gen. Park Han-ki, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea is gaining traction over Tokyo’s export restrictions on high-tech materials to South Korea.
“The plan of building the LPH-II ship has been included in a long-term force buildup plan,” said a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs, speaking on condition of anonymity and using an acronym for “landing platform helicopter.”
“Once a preliminary research is completed within a couple of years, the shipbuilding plan is expected to be included in the midterm acquisition list,” the spokesman added.
The new LPH is to be refit to displace 30,000 tons, double the capacity of the previous two LPHs — Dokdo and Marado — with 14,500 tons of displacement. The carrier-type vessel is also bigger than the 27,000 tons associated with Japan’s Izumo-class helicopter destroyers.
“It’s the first time that a light aircraft carrier-class ship is pursued under South Korea’s force improvement plans,” Kim Dae-young, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told Defense News. “It’s also a symbolic and meaningful step to upgrade the country’s naval capability against potential threats posed by Japan and China.”
Japan has plans to convert its two Izumo-class helicopter destroyers by 2023 to light aircraft carriers from which the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) jet can operate.
South Korea bought 40 F-35As for its Air Force in 2014 for $6.75 billion, and 20 more could be purchased as part of midterm arms-buildup plans. In tandem with the light aircraft carrier plan, the military is considering buying 20 more F-35Bs, a defense procurement source said.
“A pilot study on the purchase of F-35Bs is being conducted by a state-funded research institute. The study results are to be released as early as September,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The study weighs in on two options to replace the order of F-35As with F-35Bs, and buy 20 more F-35s additionally.”
The new carrier is expected to hold 16 STOVL aircraft, 3,000 marines and 20 armored vehicles, according to the source. The LPH-II is expected to have a ski jump-style launch ramp.
The South Korean Navy has already launched two Dokdo-class LPHs in an effort to develop its blue-water operational capability, as well as counter North Korean threats.
In May 2018, the second Dokdo-class LPH was launched with reconfigurations from the lead ship. The 199-meter-long, 31-meter-wide LPH is equipped with a fixed-panel 3D surveillance radar built by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, in place of the Thales SMART 3D radar aboard the Dokdo.
As for Marado, its flight deck was adapted to accommodate two V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, while the Dokdo could carry only one V-22. Marado is also fitted with two Phalanx close-in weapon systems, instead of the Goalkeeper CIWS installed on the Dokdo.
The Dokdo-class LPH can carry up to 720 fully equipped marines, 10 tanks, 10 trucks, seven amphibious assault vehicles and three artillery systems. It can sail at a maximum speed of 41 KPH with a crew of 300 on board.
The well deck has a capacity for two landing craft. Below the deck hanger, 15 helicopters, including two V-22s, can fit while the flight deck can simultaneously accommodate up to five helicopters of all types.
Source : AWST July 30, 2019South Korea’s most recent fighter acquisition program gave the air force the type that it wanted, the
But those 20 additional aircraft may be F-35Bs instead, according to an industry source who says the air force is working toward the acquisition. Meanwhile, the defense ministry has confirmed plans for an assault ship that could operate such fighters, which are capable of short takeoff and vertical landing.
The air force is moving to initial operational capability with the first batch, which were ordered in 2014 following a 2013 selection. Missions for F-35 units will include strikes against strategic targets, such as mobile missile launchers, the government says.
When the F-35A selection was announced, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said that a later order for 20 more fighters could be subject to changed requirements. Still, the air force continued to lobby for another 20 F-35As, sources familiar with the matter have said. But its interest has lately switched to F-35Bs, the industry source tells Aviation Week. These fighters would be bought under a program called F-X Phase 4. No timing was disclosed. Separately, the Jongang Ilbo newspaper reports that an order for 20 F-35Bs is indeed planned. It adds that the assault ship will be able to accommodate 16 such fighters.