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Seoul to streamline military leadership

The Ministry of National Defense on Tuesday confirmed its plan to revamp the top military command structure for the first time in some 20 years in efforts to enhance interoperability among all military branches.

It has also confirmed a series of measures to counter North Korea’s possible provocations and its asymmetrical military threats, streamline the military structure and deal with other types of threats including those in cyberspace.

The ministry announced its 73-point defense reform measures, which are to be carried out between this year and 2030. They focus on improving interoperability, securing “active deterrence capabilities” and maximizing efficiency in military operations, officials said.

The measures came after a series of shortcomings in the military have been revealed in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan last March and the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island last November that together killed 50 South Koreans.

“The ultimate purpose of this reform is to realize an advanced multi-function, high-efficiency defense. It is to enhance the military structure with an emphasis on intelligence and turn it into a low-cost, high-efficiency, practical system,” said Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin in a press briefing.

Under the new command structure, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman is also to assume the “limited” authority to manage military personnel, education and supplies, which the ministry said would help support the chairman’s existing responsibility for leading military operations and intelligence-related tasks.

Under the existing command system, chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force have the authority for the personnel management.

Military experts have pointed out that the JCS chief should be allowed to lead personnel management as well as military operations so as to ensure rapid and efficient decision-making during possible wartime operations.

Under the new system, each chief of the three armed services will also be given the partial authority to lead the military operations so that they can respond to possible wartime situations in a timely way.

The change in the top command structure will help streamline the bloated military, removing up to 1,500 officers including 30 general-level officers. It will also lead to a yearly budget reduction of some 100 billion won ($89 million), officials explained.

As part of efforts to streamline the military structure, the ministry will reduce the number of general-grade officers by 15 percent by 2020. Currently, the number of general-level officers stands at around 440.

The ministry has also decided to maintain the ratio of Army, Navy and Air Force officers at the key decision-making JCS posts at 2:1:1 in order to improve interoperability and ensure “balanced development” among the three armed services.

It has also confirmed the plan to establish a special command to safeguard the five northwestern frontline islands ― vulnerable to possible North Korean attacks ― by June.

The new command to be headed by the three-star Marine Corps commandant is aimed at maintaining strong deterrence against North Korea and countering its attempts to neutralize the Northern Limit Line, the de-facto inter-Korean maritime border.

The military also plans to speed up its planned deployment of high-altitude spy drones and stealth fighter jets to increase its surveillance capability and bolster deterrence toward North Korea.

Seoul asked Washington last year to sell it the U.S.-made Global Hawk spy aircraft and expects to receive final approval for the planned purchase from the U.S. Defense Department in June, officials said.

At the same time, under the third phase of the fighter modernization project, the military will seek to purchase 60 stealth fighter jets at an earlier than previously scheduled, officials said.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightening II, Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by the European consortium are being cited as the likely candidates for the FX-III acquisition project ― estimated at 10 trillion won.

The ministry also plans to strengthen the role of the cyber command and run an institution to foster experts on cyber warfare so as to better deal with rising cyberspace threats.

It will also merge the Army, Air Force and Naval colleges and establish a combined military college to offer military officers specialized education focusing on interoperability.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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