SEOUL, Aug. 16 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States decided to kick off their annual summertime combined exercise in an adjusted manner this week, military officials said Sunday, following the postponement of their springtime training due to the coronavirus.
The computer-simulated Combined Command Post Training (CCPT) will begin Tuesday and run until Aug. 28, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement, noting that the two sides made the decision “after taking into consideration related circumstances, such as the COVID-19 situation comprehensively.”
Seoul and Washington had initially planned to kick-start the training Sunday but pushed back the date after a South Korean Army officer who was supposed to take part in the exercise tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, according to military officials.
The planned exercise will be smaller in scale compared with previous ones, as American troops necessary for the program were not able to come to South Korea under coronavirus-related restrictions, they added.
In the runup to the planned exercise, the two sides held a four-day crisis management staff training last week.
The two sides have usually held major combined exercises twice a year — in March and August, but they skipped this year’s springtime CCPT due to the fast spread of the new coronavirus.
South Korea had been managing the COVID-19 situation in a relatively stable manner, but it reported 166 new patients Saturday, which is a five-month high, mostly in Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan areas due to cluster infections mainly from churches, according to health authorities.
“This exercise will put a focus on the maintenance of the combined defense posture. A run-through based on the future combined command structure after the transition of the wartime operation control (OPCON) will partly be conducted,” the JCS said.
Currently, a four-star U.S. Army general helms the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC). After Seoul retakes OPCON from Washington, however, a South Korean general is supposed to command the CFC.
As the upcoming exercise will be held in an adjusted manner, a Full Operational Capability (FOC) test will not be conducted fully, which would affect Seoul’s OPCON transfer of its forces from Washington.
The FOC is meant to verify if Seoul is on course to meet the conditions for the OPCON transition. Though it is conditions-based, rather than time-based, the Seoul government seeks to retake it under the current Moon Jae-in administration, whose term will end in May 2022.
During last year’s summertime exercise, the allies conducted an initial operational capability (IOC) test, and their defense ministers decided to move on to the FOC test. Following the FOC test, the two sides will carry out a Full Mission Capability (FMC) test.
“We would accept inevitable circumstances,” Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said earlier during a parliamentary committee meeting. “If needed, we will change our plans (regarding the OPCON transfer), I believe.”