South Korea drops joint command plan

March 4, 2011 at 2:07 PM
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SEOUL, March 4 (UPI) -- The South Korean Defense Ministry won't go ahead with its planned Joint Forces Command changes in its command structure, a ministry official said.

"We decided to scrap the plan to create the JFC and its commander because such operational command is not guaranteed by the constitution," he added.

The plan to create a joint forces operational command by early 2012 was announced in December amid growing calls to improve interoperability between the three wings of the armed forces to better respond to provocations by North Korea.

It also was designed to prepare for the planned withdrawal South Korean troops from under United States' control to South Korean control in 2015. They currently work together within the U.S.-led Combined Forces Command. After 2015, South Korea and the United States will operate separate war-fighting theater commands on the Korean Peninsula.

In the JFC plan, a four-star officer was to have more command authority than the chairman of the current joint chiefs of staff.

The JCS chairman has operational command over all military branches but is responsible only for commanding joint operations of the three services in case of an emergency. The authority to manage military personnel otherwise rests with the chief of staff of each three branches of the military -- army, navy and air force.

But the navy and air force opposed the JFC plan, fearing that the army would dominate the new command structure, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.

The decision comes as tensions with North Korea are high, especially after a fatal attack on a South Korean patrol boat and the shelling of a South Korean Island in the past year.

South Korea has increased its defense budget and border protection has risen in importance. Seoul is looking to improve its frontier early warning systems, a lucrative area for foreign suppliers, especially in Israel, a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said in January.

Part of South Korea's defense budget increase likely is to be spent on Israeli defense technology, including drones, missiles, radar technology and missile defense systems, the newspaper said.

"Trade in military technology between the two countries has already seen a significant increase over the past three years, with the current annual spend estimated at $1.25 billion. South Korean exports to Israel account for two-thirds of this, while Israeli exports to South Korea account for the remaining third."

A big winner in the relationship has been Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary Elta. It picked up two radar systems contracts -- one to identify missile launches and the other for fighter jets. "A significant reverse deal could follow if Israel goes ahead with a plan currently under negotiation to purchase South Korean T-50 Golden Eagle trainer jets for the Israeli air force," the newspaper said.

South Korea sees big potential for export orders for its T-50, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries. The aircraft is South Korea's first indigenous supersonic aircraft and one of the world's few supersonic trainers. Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems and KAI created the T-50 International Company, known as TFIC, to pursue export markets outside South Korea.

The design is an early 1990s version and based on the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon. Part of the T-50's export appeal is the option to upgrade the T-50 into a multirole fighter, designated the FA-50.

The T-50's central processing unit and its operating system are developed by MDS Technology. Samsung Thales and LIG Nex1 are the main avionics and electronic warfare equipment developers. Cockpit panels, switches and joysticks are produced by South Korea's FirsTec and Sungjin Techwin.

Another Israeli supplier to win large South Korean contracts is Elisra Electronic Systems, which has headquarters in Haifa, Israel, and is 70 percent owned by Elbit Systems and 30 percent owned by Israel Aerospace Industries.

In January Elisra announced it won a $29 million contract to supply South Korea with airborne electronic warfare suites for its CN-235 transports.

The deal for Elisra comes after a 2009 contract worth around $25 million for integrated electronic warfare suites for South Korea's fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130H tactical transports.

Also in 2009, Elisra signed a $7 million contract for early warning equipment for four prototype Korea Aerospace Industries F/A-50 strike aircraft. The deal included advanced radar warning receiver as well as chaff and flare dispensers.

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