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JCS to oversee armament, operational capability of armed forces

The Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to have the full authority to oversee the armed forces’ armaments and operational capability beginning next year.

This is in line with efforts to streamline the chain of command between the Army, Air Force and Navy for faster decision-making, defense officials said.

The JCS will be given the full power to comprehensively assess and make final decisions as to what weapon systems need to be upgraded or replaced and what is required to boost capabilities of each force.

Until now, the JCS only had to “coordinate” such matters based on requests by the Army, Air Force and Navy chiefs, who sent separate proposals detailing their needs for operational improvement through new weapon systems.

The expected change will only allow chiefs of the armed forces to file requests concerning their “operational capability.”

The Ministry of Defense will file a motion for an approval from the Cabinet by the end of this year to implement the revised ordinance early next year when the new administration takes office.

This comes as the Army, Air Force and Navy have been criticized for operating on their own, separately and rarely collaborating due to the “firewall” between the armed forces, observers said.

They had carried on missions and practices primarily looking out for their individual interests rather than finding “synergistic solutions and countermeasures” against North Korea, they noted.

Defense officials said the new ordinance will root out this “selfishness” among the armed forces with hopes of uniting the operational commands.

Divisions among the armed forces’ chain of command had been clearly seen when South Korea’s Cheonan naval ship was attacked by a North Korean torpedo in 2010.

However, concerns have been expressed that too much authority on the JCS may give too much power on the Army given that the JCS has more commanding officers from the ground forces than from the Air Force or Navy. The top brass, including the JCS chairman, has traditionally been appointed to those from the Army.

The incumbent JCS chairman Jung Seung-jo is from the Army, who graduated from the Korea Military Academy. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin was also an army cadet from the Korea Military Academy.

South Korea’s Army has been given more strategically important roles than other armed forces as it had to readily defend the front line against a large number of North Korean troops.

However, experts pointed out that South Korea needs to balance its ground, air, naval and even cyber capability as unconventional threats increase from North Korea.

By Park Hyong-ki (hkp@heraldcorp.com)
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