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PoliticsSouth Korea

South Korea, US hold largest-ever live-fire drills

May 25, 2023

The South Korean and US militaries have begun their most expansive joint live-fire exercises to simulate a "full-scale attack" by Pyongyang. North Korea says it will respond with appropriate action.

Two US Air Force B-1b bombers (center of shot) Four South Korean Air Force F-35 fighter jets and four US Air Force F-16 fighter jets fly over South Korea Peninsula
The two countries say they are simulating a full-scale North Korean attackImage: South Korean Defense Ministry/AP/picture alliance

South Korean and United States forces embarked on their largest-ever joint live-fire exercises on Thursday, involving some 2,500 troops near the county's northern border.

Seoul said the drills would simulate a "full-scale attack" from North Korea, while Pyongyang claims the two allies are preparing an invasion in the opposite direction.

What does the drill entail?

The exercises, called "Combined annihilation firepower drills," have been held 11 times since they began in 1977, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

The South Korean ministry said the exercises' goal was to secure "peace through overwhelming strength."

The latest drills — to simulate artillery and aerial strikes on front-line North Korean military facilities in response to an attack — are the biggest of their kind.

They involve 2,500 troops and 610 weapons systems such as fighter jets, attack helicopters, drones, tanks and artillery from the two countries.

Tokyo, Seoul ties thaw amid North Korea worries

The increase compared with the most recent exercises in 2017 — which drew on about 2,000 soldiers and 250 weapons assets — is significant.

After practicing the elimination of immediate targets, the militaries stage precision-guided attacks on simulated targets further behind enemy lines.

The ultimate aim would be to "completely annihilate" North Korean military threats.

Pyongyang vows to respond in kind

North Korean state media last Friday called the drills "a typical North Korea-targeted war rehearsal." The country views such exercises as being more focused on invasion than defense.

It said Pyongyang "cannot but take a more serious note of the fact" that the exercises were being staged so near the frontier, around which lies the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

State news outlet the Korean Central News Agency said the country would respond to the drills with unspecified "corresponding responses."

The North sometimes reacts to major South Korean-US exercises by staging missile and other weapons tests.

Since the start of 2022, the isolated country has test-launched more than 100 missiles, but none since it fired a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile in mid-April.

The South Korean and US militaries conducted their biggest field exercises in five years earlier this year. Washington also sent the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and nuclear-capable bombers for joint drills.

rc/msh (AP, Reuters)