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Air Force chief tapped to head Joint Chiefs of Staff

Gen. Won In-choul (Yonhap)
Gen. Won In-choul (Yonhap)
Air Force chief Won In-choul was named to lead the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Ministry of National Defense said Monday.

“He is an operations expert with initiative to power through defense reforms including ongoing efforts to transfer the wartime operational control to South Korea from the US,” the ministry said.

Seoul had been making preparations to take over the wartime role from Washington by 2022, but the plan has hit a snag over the reduced joint drills to test South Korea’s military readiness. The two sides skipped drills in March and scaled backed another in August.

Won, a four-star general, has assumed key roles in the area, having served as commander at the Air Force Operations Command and vice chairman of the JCS.

“I feel a heavy sense of responsibility,” Won said. “I will do my best to ensure defense readiness through an ironclad Seoul-Washington alliance and push ahead with defense reforms including the wartime role transfer.”

Current Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo previously served as the Air Force chief and JCS chairman before assuming the minister position.

Won’s nomination marked the second recent reshuffle scheduled in the military’s top ranks, with Army chief Gen. Suh Wook already named to be the next defense minister earlier Friday.

The nomination broke the 21-year practice where a defense minister was a senior to a JCS chairman by the year he graduated from a service academy. The seniority has been one of the factors affecting top military rank appointments.

Won, 59, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1984 after graduating from the Korea Air Force Academy, while Suh, 57, earned his commission likewise in 1985 from the Korea Military Academy.

President Moon is expected to make Won’s appointment official after he presides over a weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday where ministers are bound by law to discuss the matter before the official nomination.

Both Won and Suh will have to sit for parliamentary hearings, but they could begin work without the legislature’s consent.

While there is no law stipulating the term of the JCS chairman, Won is expected to serve for around 18 months to two years. Incumbent JCS Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki will complete his two-year term in September, if Won succeeds him.

By Choi Si-young (