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S. Korea's joint chiefs of staff to lead Key Resolve exercise in March

All Headlines 18:00 January 30, 2017

SEOUL, Jan. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead a combined military exercise with the U.S. from a new command center in March amid growing threats from North Korea, military officials said Monday.

"During the upcoming Key Resolve exercise, Seoul's JCS will be responsible for exercise planning and control, operation of opposing forces, and after-drill meetings," an official at the defense ministry said.

The exercise's command center will be set up in an underground bunker of South Korea's Capital Defense Command, as the JCS will lead the annual exercise with the U.S. staff playing a supporting role, according to the ministry.

When the U.S. side led the exercise, the command center used to be set up at the bunker of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.

The JCS led the Key Resolve drills in 2013 as South Korea was scheduled to regain wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington in 2015. But the OPCON transfer was pushed back amid Pyongyang's provocations. Seoul and Washington agreed on the "conditions-based" transfer, which observers say could come in mid-2020s.

Because of the revision, the Seoul-Washington Combined Forces Command has led the annual drills in the past three years.

If Seoul regains wartime operational control in 2025 or 2026, JCS chief will take full control of the drills as commander, with U.S. Forces Korea chief supporting as vice commander, the official said.

This undated captured image from Yonhap News TV shows soldiers during the annual Key Resolve exercise held last year in South Korea to counter growing threats from North Korea. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) Strike Group may participate in this year's Key Resolve exercise in a warning sign against Pyongyang, which has expressed the goal to develop nuclear-tipped long-range missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. Navy deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Asia last week from Naval Base San Diego, which is the key homeport of the US Pacific Fleet.

This year, Pyongyang has repeatedly threatened to test-launch a long-range missile "at any time, at any place" once an order is handed down from its leader Kim Jong-un.


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