US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to visit S. Korea this week

Seoul: The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Seoul this week for annual defence talks with his South Korean counterpart on the planned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON), North Korean threats, cybersecurity, and other issues, according to Seoul officials.

Austin will go to South Korea on Tuesday (Washington time) for the 53rd Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), which will take place on Thursday. According to sources, it is the first SCM between Seoul's Defense Minister Suh Wook and Austin since the Joe Biden administration took office in January.

Despite signs that Pyongyang is doubling down on its nuclear and missile programmes, Seoul and Washington have been ratcheting up coordination to begin nuclear dialogue with North Korea. The condition-based wartime OPCON transfer, after which a four-star South Korean general will lead the allies' combined forces during conflict, is high on the agenda. The wartime OPCON is currently in the hands of the United States, while the peacetime OPCON is in the hands of the South.  The two sides are anticipated to discuss when and how the full operational capability (FOC) test would be conducted as part of the three-stage programme to check South Korea's capabilities in preparation for the OPCON handover.

The allies successfully completed the initial operational capability (IOC) test in 2019. However, the FOC test, which is the second component of the verification procedure, has yet to be completed. The programme concludes with a full mission capability (FMC) test.

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