OPLAN 5015 [Operation Plans]
The new military strategy, Operations Plan (OPLAN) 5015, called for a prompt response to a North Korean attack with a preventive strike on the North's core military facilities and weapons as well as its top leaders. It differs sharply with the old OPLAN 5027, which is based on retraction, realignment and striking back. The new plan was signed by South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Choi Yoon-hee and Combined Forces Commander Curtis Scaparrotti in June 2015.
OPLAN 5015 focuses "on bolstering the capabilities for striking the headquarters" including the scenario of making a prompt attack on the headquarters and communication facilities of the DPRK. OPLAN 5015 consolidated OPLAN 5029 for the event of DPRK internal contingency, OPLAN 5027 in preparation of all-out war, and a peacetime OPLAN in response to local provocation. The OPLAN 5015 is also known to encompass plans against asymmetric aggression such as TBM/WMD and cyber warfare.
USFK regularly reviews and updates operations plans to ensure our readiness to respond to regional threats and crises. The combined ROK-U.S. operations plan continued to evolve to enhance readiness and strengthen the ROK-US Alliance’s ability to defend the Republic of Korea and maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula. While it continues to train and man its conventional force, North Korea remains focused on improving its asymmetric capabilities: nuclear weapons, long-range ballistic missiles, and cyber programs.
North Korea special forces couldpotentially disrupt selected US-ROK operational plans in times of war or crisis, including ROK Army mobilization, US Noncombatant Evacuation Operations, and staging, onward movement, and synchronization of deep, close and rear defenses.
Asahi Shimbun reported that the plan “deals with surprise military provocations by Pyongyang through the use of its special forces." An anonymous top military officer caused a stir in August 2015 when he told a Korean newspaper that the plan contained preemptive "decapitation" of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The new plan was said to adapt to changes in the security environment by focusing on making a swifter and more energetic military response than the previous OPLAN 5027, incorporating the concept of a preemptive strike. With North Korea’s localized provocations becoming more frequent, there was an increasing risk 2of escalation. OPLAN 5015 articulated ways to respond to these threats with US-ROK combined forces and, in the event of escalation, to respond to the threat of North Korea‘s missiles and nuclear weapons.
The reported content of OPLAN 5015 was not without problems. Although the new plan reportedly focused not on a full-blown war but on limited warfare, a preemptive strike can escalate from a small skirmish into a large-scale war. It is hard to understand how the Korean troops would play a leading role while should a war start, Korea would not have military operational control. If that meant Korean soldiers would mostly engage in ground warfare while the US military provided naval and aerial support as some experts alleged, some South Koreans said the plan needed to be reconsidered.
OPLAN 5015 was a follow-up measure to the Strategic Planning Guidance (SPG), which the US Secretary of Defense and the South Korean Defense Minister agreed to during the 42nd US-ROK Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) in October 2010. In March 2013, the military announced it had drawn up plans for US and South Korean forces jointly responding to localized provocations.
The operation plan outlined how US and South Korean forces would operate during the outbreak of war or some other crisis. By the end of 2015, the two sides would draw up detailed instructions for each echelon and their subordinate units according to the new operation plan.
Cho Sang-ho, a Defense Ministry official tasked with structural reform of the military, said 27 August 2015 that “the South Korean military will take the lead in developing concepts of asymmetric strategy that are superior to those of the North Korean military" and mentioned psychological warfare, information superiority, the ability to make precision strikes, and a “decapitation strike."
The commander of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) asked on 11 September 2015 for joint probes with South Korea into the leakage of the new OPLAN 5015 to the media. The request from the USFK Commander, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, was disclosed during a parliamentary audit session when Cho Hyun-Chun, the chief of the Defense Security Command, responded to a lawmaker's question about the media coverage of the 5015 operation plan.
Defense Minister Han Min-Koo also said at the parliamentary session on Thursday that during a meeting with Scaparrotti in August 2015, the US commander raised a complaint over the media reports. Han added, however, that an investigation had already been started by South Korean authorities before Scaparrotti made such comments.
Military leaders and lawmakers on the ROK National Assembly Defense Committee quarreled for weeks over making public the new Korea-US military operational plan. The Joint Chiefs of Staff seemed willing to report part, if not all, of the plan to the Assembly committee. The MND spokesperson stated 05 October 2015 that the specific contents of OPLAN 5015 could not be revealed and that a limited version that reveals what is determined to be relevant was reported. National Assembly members raised their opposition against this decision ROK JCS is not properly reporting information that is required for proper inspections and budget planning.
After a meeting 07 October 2015, lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties expressed dissatisfaction with the military's superficial report, citing the rule that exempts obligatory reporting of military information that is important for national security.
The JCS and Defense Ministry were concerned about possible leakage of its contents, based on prior experience. The major points of OPLAN 5015 had already been reported by local and foreign media outlets, including Japan's Asahi Shimbun, which said the new plan included concepts of limited war, or guerilla warfare, rather than a full-scale conflict.
Following the October 2015 meeting between President Obama and President Park, in which the two countries recommitted to a comprehensive and global Alliance, senior defense officials met in November 2015 at the 40th ROK-US Military Committee Meeting (MCM) and the 47th ROK-US Security Consultative Meeting (SCM). At the 47th annual Security Consultative Meeting on 02 November 2015 in Seoul, the two sides warned that “any North Korean aggression or provocation is not to be tolerated".
They approved and agreed to implement a new concept to detect, disrupt, destroy, and defend (the “4Ds") against North Korean missile threats. The 4D Operational Concept relies on South Korea’s Kill Chain, an integrated system for tracking and carrying out preemptive strikes on North Korean missile sites.
KEY RESOLVE and ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN are annual, computer-simulated command post exercises that focus on crisis management and the defense of the Republic of Korea. FOAL EAGLE is an annual field training exercise to ensure operational and tactical readiness. In August 2015, USFK and PACOM integrated for the first time the Korea-based ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN exercise and PACOM’s PACIFIC SENTRY command and control exercise.
Some sources claim that OPLAN 5015 was included in the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise in 2015. The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises running from 06 March 2016 through 30 April 2016 were the largest in scale since Pyongyang’s torpedo attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010. The 2016 exercise will involve more than 300,000 South Korean and 15,000 U.S. troops and simulate previously unattempted strategies. The Key Resolve portion of the exercise included OPLAN 5015. This is the first time for it to be carried out in a Key Resolve exercise.
Pyongyang wasted no time putting forth a spiteful responses. The National Defence Commission of the DPRK issued a statement on 07 March 2016 "The situation is getting ever more serious as the enemies decided to stage the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle 16 joint military exercises by the way of fighting an actual war involving the thrice-cursed 'beheading operation' aimed to remove the supreme headquarters of the DPRK and 'bring down its social system' pursuant to the extremely adventurous OPLAN 5015."