The United States and South Korea are preparing to begin their largest combined military training in years after North Korea stepped up weapons tests and threats of nuclear conflict against Seoul and Washington.
The allies’ summer drills will take place from August 22 to September 1 in South Korea under the name Ulchi Freedom Shield.
They will include field exercises with aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops.
The exercises underscore a commitment by Washington and Seoul to restore large-scale training after they canceled some of their regular drills and reduced others to computer simulations in recent years to create space for diplomacy with Pyongyang and for the concerns of Covid-19.
The U.S. Defense Department also said the U.S., South Korean and Japanese navies participated in missile warning and ballistic missile search and track exercises off the coast of Hawaii from Jan. 8 to 14. August, which he said was aimed at fostering trilateral cooperation in the face of North Korea’s challenges.
While the US and South Korea describe their drills as defensive, the Ulchi Freedom Shield is expected to provoke an angry reaction from North Korea, which describes all allied training as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify their development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
Before they scaled back, the US and South Korea held major joint exercises every spring and summer in South Korea. The spring ones had been notable for live-fire drills involving a wide range of land, air and sea assets and typically involved around 10,000 US and 200,000 Korean troops.
Officials at Seoul’s Defense Ministry and their joint chiefs of staff would not comment on the number of US and South Korean troops that would participate in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian Shield.
The allies will train for drone strikes and other new warfare developments shown during Russia’s war against Ukraine and practice joint military-civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports and large industrial facilities.
“The most important significance of (Ulchi Freedom Shield) is that it normalizes South Korea-US joint exercises and field training, (contributing) to the rebuilding of the South Korea-US alliance and the posture of combined defense,” said Moon Hong-sik. , from the Ministry of Defense of South Korea.
Some experts say North Korea may use the drills as an excuse to raise tensions.
The North has already warned of “deadly” retaliation against South Korea over its Covid-19 outbreak which it says was caused by anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other items smuggled across the border with balloons released by southern activists .
South Korean and US officials say North Korea is also preparing for its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear warhead to fit its intercontinental ballistic missiles.