(ATTN: UPDATES with nominee's remarks during hearing in last 5 paras)
By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Sept. 18 (Yonhap) -- Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman nominee Gen. Won In-choul pledged Friday to accelerate South Korea's push to retake the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its forces from the United States, calling it a "long-held yearning" of its people.
Won made the remark in an opening speech during a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, vowing to continue boosting military capabilities based on the South Korea-U.S. alliance to promptly complete the envisioned transfer.
"The OPCON transfer is part of our long-held yearning to build a combined defense system led by South Korean forces in line with the public's demand to realize 'strong security' and 'responsible defense,'" he said.
South Korea and the U.S. conducted an initial operational capability (IOC) test last year and planned to move on to the Full Operational Capability (FOC) test this year to assess how well South Korea is prepared to retake the wartime OPCON.
But they failed to fully assess the FOC this year, as they had to scale back the summertime exercise due to the new coronavirus situation. Following the FOC test, they should carry out a Full Mission Capability (FMC) test.
The Seoul government seeks to retake the wartime OPCON before the current Moon Jae-in administration's term ends in May 2022, though the transition is not time-based but conditions-based.
On North Korea, Won said the country is continuing to develop asymmetric capabilities such as ballistic missiles.
He earlier said the North could test-fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) around the 75th founding anniversary of its ruling party on Oct. 10.
"We will sternly deal with any provocation or threat, and thereby complete the military's duty," the nominee said.
Won was also asked about an alliance issue described in Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward's book, "Rage."
"Bob Woodward's new book talks about a nuclear attack on North Korea, citing OPLAN 5027," said Rep. Hwang Hee of the ruling Democratic Party. "OPLAN 5027 doesn't have such a section, right?"
"Right," Won replied, declining to discuss details. OPLAN 5027 refers to joint Seoul-Washington military operation plans to respond to a North Korean invasion.
Regarding whether the U.S. could attack North Korea without South Korea's approval, Won said, "I don't think so."
He also said the South Korean government and military do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state and that North Korea's aim of conquering the South by force remains unchanged.
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