Drill to simulate power transfer to South Korea
Stars and Stripes May 7, 2008
SEOUL — Military leaders will get their first look in a few months at what a South Korean-led war with North Korea might look like, during the first of four computer-generated war games scheduled before South Korea takes over wartime control of all troops in the country.
Planners for Ulchi Focus Guardian say preparing for the late summer exercise is daunting, because U.S. and South Korean military leaders will operate from different headquarters for the first time. And they don’t know exactly what the two commands — which are supposed to be separate but complementary — will look like, or how they will interact.
“It’s hard to plan to test something that you don’t even know yet,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Michelle “Xena” Vestal, part of a four-person exercise planning team. “We’re kind of putting the cart before the horse this year.”
If a war broke out in the Korean peninsula, the U.S. general in charge of 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, the Combined Forces Command and the multi-national United Nations Command would lead the war. That is scheduled to change on April 17, 2012, when the U.S. transfers operational wartime control — called OPCON — to South Korea.
UFG gives leaders a chance to spot and correct potential problems in the transformation, said Lt. Col. Michael Panciera, head of the exercise planning team.
“We’re trying to test as much as we can this first year so we can know what needs to be fixed before 2012, ” he said.
U.S. military officials are planning and will be in charge of UFG.
“It’s still Gen. Bell’s exercise, and it will happen the way Gen. Bell wants it to,” Panciera said.
UFG will replace the annual Ulchi Focus Lens exercise, which rehearsed a U.S.-led war. U.S. Forces Korea’s annual spring exercise, Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, will continue to rehearse wartime scenarios with U.S. military officials in charge.
Planners say they’re trying to answer logistical questions about everything from communication to where to place liaison teams from other countries like Canada or Australia.
Exercise planner Phil Anglade said military officials in charge of the transformation have brown-bag lunch meetings every Friday to discuss UFG and the transfer. During a recent meeting, they talked about the need for more translators or translating software after the two commands separate, since many of the bilingual South Korean military personnel won’t be working in the same offices as the Americans.
Bell said in a speech last month that he had let South Koreans make decisions in two of the last five U.S.-led exercises. In every case, the South Koreans made the right calls, he said.
Panciera said Bell let his CFC deputy commander, a South Korean, run an air campaign when he was scripted to fly to Guam in one exercise.
“He’s been kind of mentoring his deputy commander,” he said.
The U.S. still has some capabilities that the ROK military doesn’t have, including certain aircraft and some communication systems, Panciera said. The “only hiccup” he sees in the transformation are possible budget cuts in South Korea’s military that could keep it from buying some equipment it needs, he said.
The two militaries will participate in a certification exercise in early 2012, shortly before the transfer of power in April. That exercise will essentially be a report card letting South Korea know what it needs to improve or upgrade.
But planners say South Korea will be ready.
“There will be no problems with the OPCON transfer,” Panciera said. “They could do it tonight. The commander and (South Korean) deputy commander could switch places tomorrow.”