The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises will continue through Sept. 1 in South Korea and include field exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops.
While Washington and Seoul describe their exercises as defensive, North Korea portrays them as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify its nuclear weapons and missiles development.
Ulchi Freedom Shield, which started along with a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, will reportedly include exercises simulating joint attacks, front-line reinforcements of arms and fuel, and removals of weapons of mass destruction.
The allies will also train for drone attacks and other new developments in warfare shown during Russia’s war on Ukraine and practice joint military-civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports and major industrial facilities such as semiconductor factories.
The United States and South Korea in past years had canceled some of their regular drills and downsized others to computer simulations to create space for the Trump administration’s diplomacy with North Korea and because of COVID-19 concerns.
Tensions have grown since the collapse of the second meeting between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in early 2019. The Americans then rejected North Korean demands for a major release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear complex, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities. Kim has since vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” U.S. pressure.
South Korea’s military has not revealed the number of South Korean and U.S. troops participating in Ulchi Freedom Shield, but has portrayed the training as a message of strength. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said last week that Ulchi Freedom Shield “normalizes” large-scale training and field exercises between the allies to help bolster their alliance and strengthen their defense posture against the evolving North Korean threat.
Before being shelved or downsized, the United States and South Korea held major joint exercises every spring and summer in South Korea.
The spring drills had included 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…