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September 30, 2009—The US air component, like the US ground and naval forces defending South Korea, will be a supporting element to the South Korean supreme combatant commander when operational control of military operations on the Korean peninsula shifts from the US to the South Korean military on April 17, 2012, Army Gen. Walter Sharp, the top US commander in Korea, told reporters Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

However, 7th Air Force will continue to lead a combined headquarters with the South Korean air force even after the changeover, said Sharp.

He explained that the combined air headquarters would support the top South Korean military commander, but “we just felt that with the airpower that the United States brings ... to be able to have the maximum effect from airpower, the best way to do it was to continue with the US being the lead” in the air headquarters.

The transfer of operational control is laid out in Plan 5012, which both parties are currently refining, said Sharp.

He said US and South Korean forces will conduct two more major exercises—one in the summer of 2010 and one in 2011—and then do a certification exercise in early 2012 to ensure everything is ready for the April 2012 switch.

“The bottom line is I am confident from a military perspective that the [South Korean] military and the US military will be ready to do op con transition on April 17, 2012.

I think it sends exactly the right signal to North Korea,” he said.