South Korean Defense Re-Considered: Preparing for 2015


2012-08-28 Second Line of Defense has been shaping a broader understanding of the challenges and opportunities in shaping a new Pacific strategy for the 21s Century.  A key part of such a strategy is focusing on the way ahead within South Korea to broaden the ability of U.S. forces in the defense of South Korea along with modernization of South Korean forces to shape a broader regional role for those forces.

We have had the chance to talk with the current 7th USAF commander and to a past 7th USAF commander about these challenges.  The discussion continues with this third interview of 7th USAF commanders.

Lt. General (retired) Wood, USAF had extensive experience in dealing with Asian affairs and was the 7th Air Force Commander and Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces in Korea from 2006-2008 with previous duties in South Korea in 1996-1997 and in Japan from 1998-2000.

SLD: How would you generally characterize the challenge of trying to defend South Korea and what is the role of U.S. forces in that effort?

Wood:  U.S. Forces play a vital role in augmenting ROK Forces in the defense of South Korea.  It’s about being able to rapidly move naval, ground and air forces to the Korean peninsula or into the region where they can have a significant impact on combat operations in deterring North Korean aggression.  It is important as well to maintain this capability within the region in order to prevent any kind of escalation by competitors.

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea — Lieutenant General Stephen G. Wood, Commander 7th Air Force, Mrs. Wood, Lieutenant General Won Kun Cho, Commander, Air Force Operations Command, Republic of Korea, Colonel Jon A. Norman, Commander 51st Fighter Wing and Seventh Air Force Command Chief Master Sergeant Raymond F. Allen salute the arrival of U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Timothy J. Keating on Nov. 5 2007 (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ronnie Hill) 

SLD: What are the importance and the impact of new capability, which we can bring into the equation in the decade ahead, such as the F-35s, shaping an F-22-F-35 dyad, new missiles airborne, ground based and surface and subsurface ship based?

Wood:  From a Commander’s point of view, new equipment that fully exploits state-of-the-art technologies brings significantly more capability and operational flexibility…the ability to network and fully integrate the weapon systems.  Similar to a conductor coordinating the myriad instruments within an orchestra in order to affect a favorable outcome, so too the Commander must direct the coordination of the various air, ground, surface, and subsurface weapon systems in order to realize a favorable outcome.

These new technologies provide a measurable advantage to the Combatant Commander in the prosecution of military operations.  

SLD: With new networking capability, one can provide more effective strategic depth for the defense of South Korea?

Wood: It certainly does.  And it gives you more choices and the ability to have more influence throughout the region.

SLD: Let us turn to the question of 2015 and the transition in South Korea for U.S. and allied forces.  The South Koreans will take over command of the ground forces, and more generally of the allied forces?

(Editorial Note: The OPCON transition plan envisions South Korea as taking the lead in defense against North Korea as well as in other operational plan requirements. The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) will lead warfighting while the U.S. Korea Command (KORCOM) will become a supporting command, and the cur- rent U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command (CFC) will disappear.)

Wood:  The air component will be the only capability that remains separate.  It will continue to be run as it is today – by a U.S. Commander, however, the U.S. Commander will work very closely with the Combatant Commander who will likely be a South Korean senior army officer.

SLD: What is the biggest challenge moving forward to make this work?

Wood:  The first thing you need to accomplish is further modernization of Command and Control.  It will be crucial that everything digital…all data links are fully operational and interoperable…and they must be linked up in order to establish a robust command and control capability.  This networking must be exercised routinely in the same way any campaign plan would fully exercise and challenge command and control.

Such modernization will require significant investment in new equipment and also at the lower levels of echelon at the squadron, infantry battalion and even lower, at the company and platoon level.  This is an imperative to ensure positive command and control across the entire battle space.

It’s also critical that when procuring this new equipment, the South Koreans ensure that it’s compatible with U.S. equipment in order to ensure a 360-degree, 3 dimensional view of the battle space and seamless coordination of all operations against a disruptive enemy within the area of responsibility.   

For our look at what we call the Three Dimensional Warrior please  go to

SLD: How important is the F-35 in all of this?

Wood: With the South Koreans acquiring a fifth generation aircraft like the F-35, joint networking for their own forces and with ours, will be significantly enhanced.  This will be an important element of building that command and control capability, which I discussed earlier.

SLD: At Rolls Royce, you have been involved with the Osprey.  As a USAF officer, you have intimately involved in USAF combat and support operations.  When people usually discuss airpower, they tend to discuss combat aircraft.  But it is much broader than that, and such an approach is central to South Korean operations and defense.  How do you view the evolution of airpower, notably with regard to South Korean defense?

Wood:  The Osprey has been a major part of the redefinition of air power.  The more the US Marine Corps employs the aircraft, the more is understood regarding the versatility of the platform, which in turn expands the operational thinking of the battle staff.

The many successes the US Marine Corps and Special Operations Command have realized in Iraq, Afghanistan or conducting humanitarian missions off the coast of Libya, have revealed the multi-mission capability of the aircraft…it has clearly become a key enabler within the Combatant Commander’s tool box…it truly provides valuable arrows in the war fighters’ quiver.

SLD: Do you have a final thought?

Wood:  I would tell you that the South Koreans are magnificent warfighters…they’re tough and extremely determined, but unless they invest in air power modernization, the OPCON transfer will not be successful.

They need to enhance their C5ISR capabilities as well as their precision strike capabilities.  In so doing, they can expect to substantially upgrade their ability to provide regional defense and global support as needed.

For Secretary Wynne’s analyses of the impact of the F-35 on South Korean defense

Featured Image Credit: Bigstock

MV-22 in Japan from on Vimeo.