A 2001 research paper published by the Joint Military Intelligence College describes the term WATCHCON or Watch Conditions as, “…an operational and intelligence alerting mechanism and shorthand expression of the reporting organization’s degree of intelligence concern regarding a particular warning problem”.
Watch Conditions, or WATCHCONs are a system of threat awareness similar in some ways to DEFCON, FPCON, and other readiness alert systems used by the United States military and/or the federal government. But WATCHCONs have a very specific application.
Unlike Defense Conditions (DEFCON) or Force Protection Conditions (FPCON) the WATCHCON system is used in a specific mission and context. They are not used universally at all military installations. Instead, WATCHCON levels are used as a threat indicator for troops and allies in South Korea based on the activities of North Korea.
Essentially, WATCHCON establishes what some sources including GlobalSecurity.org define as “reconnaissance posture for strategic and tactical warning of attack” for Republic of Korea and United States forces.
Watch Conditions have five levels:
- WATCHCON V: Normal
- WATCHCON IV: “Normal” but with a potential threat
- WATCHCON III: Increased threat against national security
- WATCHCON II: Signs of eminent danger and significant threat to the national interest. WATCHCON I: A “clear and immediate threat” that the enemy will attack
The Republic of Korea and U.S. Forces Korea typically use WATCHCON IV day-to-day. In situations where increased threats are apparent, WATCHCON levels go higher and when circumstances warrant a Defense Readiness Condition may be given to units in theatre based on the conditions that warrant the WATCHCON.
These Defense Readiness Conditions have five levels:
- DEFCON V FADE OUT: Peacetime operations
- DEFCON IV DOUBLE TAKE: the day-to-day Defense Readiness Condition since the 1953 armistice agreement
- DEFCON III ROUND HOUSE: military tensions exist “that may cause serious and disadvantageous effects” and military action is possible
- DEFCON II FAST PACE: indicates the enemy is preparing an attack or when military tensions are higher
- DEFCON I COCKED PISTOL: the highest level, war is imminent
Select History of WATCHCON Use In South Korea
The Korean War saw a cessation of hostilities thanks to an armistice agreement signed in 1953. Following the end of the war, U.S. and South Korean forces established the use of WATCHCONs to keep an eye on North Korea. What follows are some significant uses of WATCHCONs in South Korea and why they were used.
WATCHCON 1 was initiated on 19 February to 17 March 1982, as a response to North Korean flight training, as well as the deployment of NK bombers.
In 1994, North Korea WATCHCON 3 was issued over concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program. Come 1996, an incident involving some 100 North Korean troops caused a change in WATCHCONs–North Korean forces entered the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom a day after an announcement by North Korea that the country had pulled out of the armistice agreement. This resulted in WATCHCON 2.
Levels were changed again in 1999 after what was described as a “naval battle” broke out between North and South Korean forces.