US and South Korea to begin expanded military drills next week
The United States and South Korea will begin their biggest combined military drills next week in the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea, which has been ramping up weapons tests and threats of nuclear conflict against Seoul and Washington, the South’s military said Tuesday.
The allies’ summertime drills, which will take place from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1 in South Korea under Ulchi Freedom Shield, will include field exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and tens of thousands of troops.
The drills underscore Washington and Seoul’s commitment to restore large-scale training after they cancelled some regular exercises and downsized others to computer simulations in recent years to create space for diplomacy with Pyongyang and because of COVID-19 concerns.
The U.S. Department of Defense also said the U.S., South Korean and Japanese navies took part in missile warning and ballistic missile search and tracking exercises off the coast of Hawaii from Aug. 8 to 14, which it said was aimed at furthering trilateral cooperation in the face of North Korean challenges.
While the United States and South Korea describe their exercises as defensive, Ulchi Freedom Shield will almost surely draw an angry reaction from North Korea, which describes all allied trainings as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify its nuclear weapons and missiles development.
Before they were shelved or downsized, the U.S. and South Korea held major joint exercises every spring and summer in South Korea. The spring ones had been highlighted by live-fire drills involving a broad range of land, air and sea assets and usually involved around 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops.
Tens of thousands of allied troops had participated in the summertime drills, which had mainly consisted of computer simulations to hone joint decision making and planning, although South Korea’s military has emphasized the revival of large-scale field training this time.
Officials at Seoul’s Defense Ministry and its Joint Chiefs of Staff did not comment on the number of U.S. and South Korean troops that would be participating in Ulchi Freedom Guardian Shield.
The drills, which will kick off along with a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, will reportedly include exercises simulating joint attacks, frontline reinforcements of arms and fuel, and removals of weapons of mass destruction.
The allies will also train for drone attacks and other new warfare developments shown during Russia’s war on Ukraine and practice joint military-civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports and major industrial facilities like semiconductor factories.
“The biggest meaning of (Ulchi Freedom Shield) is that it normalizes the South Korea-U.S. combined exercises and field training, (contributing) to the rebuilding of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the combined defense posture,” Moon Hong-sik, a Defense Ministry spokesperson, said during a briefing.