Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the U.S. and South Korea have agreed that an American will have command for several more years of joint forces on the peninsula in the event of war with North Korea.
Following a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Ham Min-koo, Hagel said that the agreement “will delay the scheduled transfer of operational control” to South Korea of its own forces until at least 2020.
The new plan scrapped a previous agreement that would have given South Korea operational control in wartime of its own forces in 2015.
Under the arrangement that will continue through 2020, Hagel said that the U.S. “will maintain the current force posture” giving Army Gen. Curtis “Mike” Scaporrotti, the commander of Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, the joint wartime command.
The announcement came after Han and Hagel met at the Pentagon with Scaporrotti, Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Army Gen. Martine Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At a later Pentagon briefing, Han said that “North Korea continues to launch new types of provocations. The situation on the Korean peninsula is more precarious than ever.”
Han said that the delay in the transfer of operational control would allow for a smoother transition and also buy time for South Korea to strengthen its missile defenses.
Earlier this week, Baek Seung-joo, South Korea’s vice minister of Defense, told the Wall St. Journal that South Korea was developing a threat detection and missile system designed to counter North Korea’s long-range artillery and ballistic missiles. The system called a “Kill Chain” will take several more years to develop, Baek said.
“We have yet to reach the level that we want,” Baek said. “We will be there in 2020.”
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com