Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, the commander of the 7th Air Force, stressed “readiness to fight tonight” in the face of an unpredictable North Korea during an interview with The Korea Herald this week. Talking about his military career of nearly four decades, he said that South Korea was the “best assignment,” citing his affection for Korean people, culture and food.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Korea Herald: You’ve been leading the 7th Air Force since 2012. How has it been so far and were there any challenges or rewarding experiences that really stick with you?
Jouas: Well, this is the best assignment of my career for a lot of reasons. One of them is just being here in Korea. We love being here in Korea. It’s a true operational mission and what you may see as challenges, I think a lot of us see as opportunities. Just getting to work with ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force) is a tremendous opportunity that I didn’t have very often in the past. Another opportunity is to get to know the Korean people and to get to appreciate Korean culture and be a part of a very exciting team and mission. As I said, this has been the best assignment of my 35 years.
KH: What are the aspects you stress in day-to-day operations of the 7th Air Force?
Jouas: I stress our readiness to fight tonight. I think the fact that we face an adversary that could attack us with very little warning requires that we be prepared at any time. As a result of that, we do exercises frequently. Sometimes, we may hear concerns about jet noise at odd hours of day or night, but I think people have to realize that when you hear that noise, it’s the sound of freedom. That’s the sound of us getting ready to defend the Republic of Korea. So our emphasis continues to be on taking care of our people, taking care of our mission and being prepared to fight tonight. KH: As the deputy U.S. Forces Korea commander, how do you assess North Korean threats and overall security conditions on the peninsula?
Jouas: We have to take the threats seriously. We’ve seen by North Korean actions in the past that they can be aggressive, they can be provocative. We’ve seen what they’ve done to the Cheonan (corvette) and we’ve seen the (shelling of) YP-do (Yeonpyeongdo Island). So anytime that we’ve seen threats from North Korea, we have to take them seriously. And in return, we have to be prepared to address that. We have to make sure that our readiness is at its peak at all times, and the North Koreans understand that any aggression toward the South will result in action from our forces also. KH: A top U.S. defense official once defined North Korean threats as “existential” threats. Do you agree? How would you describe the threats?
Jouas: An existential threat is certainly one that North Korea poses to South Korea. North Korea certainly made it clear that their intent is to reunify the peninsula on their terms, which would be an existential threat to the democratic system that we have here, to the rule of law that we have here, to the Korean government as we know it today. This alliance has been together for almost 61 years now, and we can see the difference that it has made in the lives of the Korean people, and the economy of Korea. And clearly together we will maintain it that way. KH: Are there any new military assets that the U.S. Forces Korea has deployed recently or plans to deploy to better deal with North Korean threats?
Jouas: I think that’s maybe not necessary in Korea itself, but the Global Hawk that was deployed in Guam. We are using that currently. We’re in the process of upgrading our aircraft with new capabilities at all times, I would actually turn that question around to the ROKAF, and see the capabilities that the ROKAF has developed. When you look at the Peace Eye (early warning and control aircraft) … the four aircraft that the ROKF has, that’s a tremendous new capability that the ROKAF brought to the air component. When you look at the F15-K that they have, that’s a great airplane and as the air component commander, I’m very happy to have that in our inventory. We think that at some point in our future the Republic of Korea will commit to purchasing the F-35, and we’re very happy to see that. KH: The allies are discussing the timing and conditions for the transfer of wartime operational control. What kind of capabilities do you think South Korea should have and are there any other aspects that South Korea should focus more on?
Jouas: I think the armed forces of Korea, and whether you’re talking about the Air Force or the Navy or the Marine Corps or the Army, have tremendous capabilities now. And they’re always improving. I’ve just mentioned just a few that the ROKAF has brought online. But you can see the new cruisers that the Navy is buying, new capabilities for the Army. So I think they’re on a good path towards a stronger fighting force, because they’re already very, very capable, and what I like to see also is how they are becoming more joint. … We’ll become more joint, more interoperable (given) the fact that we now have a naval officer, an admiral that is the chairman of (South Korea’s) Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our exercises ― both Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian ― and others stress that joint war-fighting and I think that’s a great capability that will continue to develop through the OPCON transition and into the future. KH: Although South Korea plans to purchase advanced weapons systems such as F-35s and Global Hawk planes, the U.S. Forces Korea runs somewhat older platforms such as F-16 jets. Is there a plan to modernize or upgrade your fleets?
Jouas: I think it’s no secret that our aircraft here are getting a little old. The A-10 has been around here for a long time. The F-16s that we fly comparably are not as old as the A-10, but not much younger, either. But the Air Force is committed to buying the F-35 as a replacement platform for the A-10 and F-16 and anticipate that at some point in the future, and it’s very hard to say when, that both aircraft will be replaced in due course. KH: Can you talk about plans to decommission U2 and A-10 planes?
Jouas: First, I’ll just echo the words of Gen. Scaparrotti (U.S. Forces Korea commander) and senior leadership of our armed forces. No, we’re not going to reduce our force structure in Korea, nor the readiness levels in Korea. And so if the decision is made … that the A-10 will be retired, removed from the inventory, there’ll be some comparable force structure to replace it. And I’m not going to speculate on what that will be, but our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea is firm. And we’ll have the force structure and people in place in order to do that. In terms of the U2, the same condition. The decision has not been made yet as to whether or not the U2 will be retired. Clearly, the U2 brings great capabilities here, and we would like to ― whatever takes its place ― have comparable capabilities. KH: The USFK commander wants to bring THAAD to better defend against North Korean missile threats. Does that mean that the current U.S. missile defense program is insufficient?
Jouas: We need a strong missile defense system, and we need an interoperable missile defense system. I think the decision whether or not to bring in THAAD will have to be considered by both governments. But the Ministry of Defense here and certainly our Secretary of Defense … clearly that’s something that they will be talking about here in the months to come. KH: The Pentagon has been developing a new war-fighting concept, called AirSea Battle. Is it being applied to the operations of the U.S. Forces Korea or 7th Air Force?
Jouas: I think AirSea battle is sometimes confused, because it says “air” and “sea.” But the truth is, it’s a concept that applies to all our forces, whether they’re air, land, sea, space or cyber. And what it does is it ensures that our capabilities are well meshed, that our requirements are identified, and that they’re procured and acquired in a manner that we can all benefit from. So, it comes down to joint war-fighting at its most elemental (stages), from the acquisition process up to its application at either the tactical, operational or strategic level. So certainly we apply that not just here in Korea, but across all our armed forces, everywhere that we go. KH: The U.S. is pushing for a rebalancing policy after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is that policy affecting the overall operations of the 7th Air Force?
Jouas: I’d say it’s not the rebalancing so much as it is the reduction in our defense budgets that may have an impact not just on the Air Force, but across all the services. And we see that in many ways in our procurement, we see that in our personnel, and the reductions that all the services are going to undergo. Here in Korea, we’re affected because there are certain skill sets that we have in excess, and so some of those personnel will be selected to leave the Air Force. However, what I want to point out is, even though those personnel individually may leave the Air Force, that position remains here in Korea and the force structure doesn’t change. So we’re not going to diminish our commitment, we’re not going to diminish the number of people, we’re not going to diminish the force structure that we have here in Korea that are dedicated to the alliance, and defending this nation. KH: There have been concerns about threats from North Korean drones. Are there any measures to counter them?
Jouas: I don’t want to delve into operational matters, because that’s probably going just a little bit too far. But obviously, this has everybody’s interest at the highest levels and I can assure you that we are dealing with that situationKH: Can you tell us about the current and future role of the 7th Air Force?
Jouas: In the 7th Air Force, we say our mission is to deter, defend and defeat. And, that is, we deter aggression and maintain your armistice, we defend the Republic of Korea, and we’re ready to defeat anyone that would attack this alliance. That’s always been a mission of the 7th Air Force, and will continue to be so in the future. … Even though we may be going through some changes with budgets or doctrine or rebalancing, I want to convey to everyone that our commitment is firm, our priority is readiness, and we’re ready to go together, as we always have been and always will be. KH: Do you have your own philosophy as a soldier?
Jouas: It’s by working together that we’re truly strong. And so you have to dedicate yourself to that team and to that mission. I also believe that you have to respect others. That’s a key component. And to treat others as you would want to be treated, particularly those that may be subordinate to you that work for you. And you also have to allow them to do their job. Trust them to do their job. Tell them what it is that you expect from them and allow them to produce for you. And I find that by developing that sense of teamwork, that is when you are most effective, most efficient, at the top of your game. Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas
● Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas is currently the deputy commander of the U.N. Command Korea, deputy commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, and commander of the Air Component Command of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force.
● He is also the U.S. representative to the joint committee for the Status of Forces agreement between South Korea and the U.S.
● Since being commissioned in 1979, he has served in a variety of operational and policy-making posts including special assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and the Pacific Air Forces director of Operations, Plans, Requirements, and Programs.
● During his nearly four-decade life in the military, he has been honored with various awards and decorations including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” device, Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
● Jouas obtained his bachelor’s degree in international affairs from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1979 and a master’s degree in education from Chapman College in 1984. He also spent time at Harvard University Center for International Affairs in 1998 and Kennedy School of Government in 2002.
By Song Sang-ho and Suh Ye-seul