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Military to reshape command structure

Reform measures aim to enhance efficiency and interoperability

The South Korean military is stepping up efforts to overhaul its top command structure in a bid to enhance efficiency of its peacetime and wartime operations, and interoperability among the three armed services.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin reported to President Lee Myung-bak recent developments of the military’s reform endeavors, including plans to strengthen the role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and consolidate operational commands.

Under the reform measures, chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force will come under the operational control of the JCS chairman by next year. This would help the top brass better share knowledge and experience, and improve combined operations, officials said.

Under the current system, the JCS chairman does not directly issue operational directives to the four-star chiefs of the three military wings, who only have the authority to lead affairs concerning personnel management, supplies and education.

The three-star operational commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force in charge of intelligence-related tasks and military operations receive directives by the JCS chairman under the existing system.

The military is seeking to give the JCS chairman a “limited authority” to handle personnel management, disciplinary issues and other affairs, so as to enable JCS operations to proceed rapidly and efficiently.

It is also trying to allow the chiefs of the three armed branches to have the “partial” authority to lead their military operations so that they can respond to possible battle situations in a timely way.

As part of moves to streamline the bloated command structure in the Army, the military seeks to consolidate the Army headquarters, and First and Third Army Commands in three stages by the end of 2014.

The consolidated Army organization will begin operating around the time when Seoul takes back wartime operational control from Washington in December 2015. It also will have the “operational command headquarters” and the “operational support headquarters.”

The 2nd Army Operations Command will remain as it is and will lead operations to protect non-frontline areas during peacetime and support the missions of the U.S. troops to be dispatched to the peninsula during wartime.

Under the reform measures, the Air Force and Navy will merge their respective headquarters and operational commands by 2015. The merged bodies will have two three-star vice chiefs ― one in charge of operational command and the other taking charge of support.

The moves come as concerns have persisted that the separation of the headquarters in charge of administrative affairs from the operational command has hampered efficiency.

Also under the reform measures, the three-star vice chief of the Air Force will become the vice commander of the combined South Korea-U.S. Air Force during wartime. The chief of the South Korean Air Force will take a guiding and supporting role.

There had been controversy here that as the U.S. aerial chief ― three-star commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force based in Osan, Gyeonggi Province, ― is supposed to lead the combined Air Force, the four-star chief of the South Korean Air Force was expected to fall under the control of the lower-ranking commander.

The Defense Ministry plans to submit related bills for the overhaul to the National Assembly after holding public hearings on the command structure overhaul.

Its efforts to revamp the military structure began in the wake of the two North Korean attacks last year that killed 50 South Koreans including two civilians.

By Song Sang-ho (