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Air Force chief tapped to head Joint Chiefs of Staff

By Choi Si-young

Published : Aug. 31, 2020 - 15:34

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An Air Force honor guard in January 2019. (South Korea’s Air Force) An Air Force honor guard in January 2019. (South Korea’s Air Force)
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 vice chairman of the JCS and before that as commander at the Air Force Operations Command. He described the Seoul-Washington alliance as key to pushing ahead with reforms like the wartime role handover.

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

The nomination broke the 21-year practice where a defense minister has been senior to a JCS chairman by the year of graduation at a service academy. The seniority has been one of key factors affecting top military appointments.

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

President Moon is expected to make Won’s appointment official after he chairs a weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday where ministers are bound by law to discuss the matter before the official nomination. Won and Suh will have to sit for parliamentary hearings, but they do not need parliamentary approval.

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

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)